Special meeting for special assessments
With five years having passed since the City of Washington used a special assessment to help pay for a street reconstruction project, city administrator Brent Hinson said that he feels the council needs to learn more about the practice.
He also said the council needs to develop specific guidelines for the use of special assessments. Calling the program being discussed by the council a “kinder and gentler” version of past special assessments, he said that a work session would be conducted at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the former Washington Public Library on the topic. The session will be held prior to the regular meeting at 6 p.m. Hinson said the adoption of an ordinance governing special assessments would be considered during the May 1 meeting.
“Washington has done special assessments for the last 30 or 40 years,” Hinson said. “What we are talking about now is not any real attempt to break new ground. It is just taking a look at what has been done and see if we want to make modifications and get a written policy so everyone is on the same page.”
He said the idea of special assessments is that people who have a project done on their street receive more benefit than the public in general. The special assessment collects additional tax money to help pay for the project. Hinson said the general public still pays for the majority of the project. The assessment is calculated based on the proximity to the project, amount of frontage feet and how deep the lot is. The council determines how much of the project will be assessed. At this time, the assessment amounts are the same as they were in the 1980s.
“With the type of formula we are talking about, people might be paying for 10 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s not like they are going to be paying for 50 percent of the project. That’s unreasonable. You do have to look realistically at what is fair. You can’t just say ‘this is going to be an especially expensive project, so we are really going to sock it to them.’ That’s not right.”
During the past few city council meetings, residents of South 12th Avenue in Washington have attended to object to the implementation of special assessments. A project to redo South 12th is in the works, but plans for the project have not been completed.
“Special assessments are not a way to make yourself popular as a city official,” Hinson said. “Ultimately, this is how Washington does streets and has been doing street for 40 years.”
He said that if special assessments weren’t collected, people who have had to pay assessments in the past would have concerns about why they were charged.
Hinson said the council has said it only wants to see assessments only for the street portion of a project – the road base and concrete. Storm sewers and engineering won’t be assessed for.
Businesses along a project road would also be assessed for projects, Hinson said. He also said other governmental entities, such as school districts, can be given special assessments for road projects.
A special assessment can be paid, with a “reasonable interest rate,” over 10 years, Hinson said.