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Paynesville Press - October 1, 2003

City council approves assessments for Lake Avenue

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The Paynesville City Council approved assessments for sewer, water, and storm sewer improvements along Lake Avenue last week, in spite of some objections from affected property owners.

Residents will be assessed $5.22 per foot of frontage property for stormwater improvements, $766 for sanitary sewer service, and $782 for water main service.

In all, $72,500 was assessed to nearly 40 property owners along Lake Avenue and along Co. Rd. 34, where city services were extended. Typical assessments for property owners ranged between $1,500 and $2,100.

Lee and Barb Lund, owners of the Punkin Patch Daycare and Preschool, protested their $780 assessment to the council at a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

The Lunds who bought their business in early July thought they should be excluded from the assessments. They cited a letter, written by public works director Ron Mergen, to former owners Bruce and Elaine Bork that said the only assessments for the Lake Avenue project "will be for the sewer and water services."

"The assessment rate for the street and curb and gutter is zero percent and will be paid for entirely by the State of Minnesota," the letter continued. It made no mention of storm sewer improvements, for which the Lunds were assessed $780.

(The Lund's property was not assessed for water and sanitary sewer services because they do not get their service from Lake Avenue.)

Because of the Lund's objection, council member Jean Soine made a motion to exclue the Lunds from the assessment rolls. She was joined by Mayor Jeff Thompson, but this motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with council members Dave Peschong and Dennis Zimmerman voting against it. (Council member Harlan Beek abstained from the votes because he owns property that was assessed as part of the project.)

Thompson then joined Peschong and Zimmerman in passing the assessments including the Lunds.

Determining fair assessments for the Lake Avenue projcet proved to be challeging for the city from the beginning. Typically, property owners are assessed for any street improvement project that benefits them, and city officials initially wanted to assess Lake Avenue property owners for the street improvements, just like other residents of the city.

But the road portion of the project was paid by the state and done by the county, and the city cannot assess for costs that it does not bear. Instead, the city added storm sewer assessments, when it incurred costs for the new retention pond.

If he had known then about the assessment, Lee Lund said he would have considered it part of the purchase price of their business and included it in his contract with the Borks. "It's not about the money; it's the principle," he told the council.

The Lunds can appeal the council's decision. The appeal process begins with a hearing before the council, who whould be willing to hear the Lund's case, said city administrator Steve Helget.

If they aren't satisfied, the Lunds can appeal to district court, which Lee Lund told the council he was willing to do, if necessary.

An appeal could be expensive for both parties, said city attorney Bill Spooner when Lake Avenue resident Jackie Braun asked if it was worth the city's expense to fight the Lunds over $780, but council member Dennis Zimmerman said he believed that the Lunds benefited from the storm sewer improvements and that the city should defend its policy of assessing those who benefit from such projects.

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