Special assessments capped at 40 percent
During a special work session Wednesday afternoon, the Washington City Council unofficially determined to set the maximum amount that can be assessed during a special assessment at 40 percent of the maximum assessable rate.
Council member Bob Shepherd made the motion to cap special assessments at that rate after council member Bob Shellmyer discussed the possibility of setting specific rates based on the kind of street being repaired. The discussion was based on a worksheet administrator Brent Hinson provided the council as part of the discussion on special assessments. The council is expected to vote on a special assessment policy during its May 1 meeting.
“The only reason we can assess is because it ups the value of a property either by money or standard of living,” Shepherd said. “I have a hard time figuring a time when it would be a greater advantage to a person who has a house rather than the city as a whole.”
With 40 percent being the maximum amount that can be assessed, the council can choose to set a special assessment with a lower percentage.
Hinson explained a special assessment is a process the city uses when a special project is being done. He said the theory is that certain taxpayers will get more benefit from projects — such as street projects in front of their houses — than others. He said the city assesses the taxpayers who receive more benefit a higher share of the tax burden of the project than the public as a whole. He stressed when special assessments are used, the taxpayers in the area being assessed will only pay for a portion of the project, rather than the entire project.
He said that after applying the Flint formula — a mathematical formula used to determine the amounts for special assessments — he found the amounts that would be assessed were much less than he initially believed.
Shellmyer said that he had received many phone calls about special assessments. He believed it was because the council “didn’t treat the public right.”
“We didn’t give information they really needed,” he said. “I think we probably needed to get this information to you sooner.”
Shellmyer said he believed the assessments should be standardized. He suggested streets be defined as feeder roads, residential streets and side streets without much traffic. He believed feeder roads should be charged 20 percent; residential streets, 30 percent; and side roads, 40 percent. The draft policy says that the council would make the decision of the percentage that would be assessed, based on the project. He said there are other communities that use a tiered method of this kind.
Hinson said he was concerned that the council may get overwhelmed with the details of classifying streets. Mayor Sandra Johnson said the classifications of the different streets would change over time. She also said that the tiered system would not allow the city to have any leeway to assess based on field, economic or state and federal funding conditions.
The council discussed using traffic counts to determine the type of street. Council member Merle Hagie said traffic counts concerned him because the counts vary based on time of day and time of year.
Shepherd disagreed, saying the final amount charged should come to the council, because it is an assessment. He said he liked some of the ideas of a tiered system.