consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

RAMSEY - I remain unclear in not having an understanding of the city's new assessment "policy." [see FURTHER UPDATE, below]

I am informed, and now believe I erred in saying there was a 20% cap on things to be assessed per the upcoming planned road work. Perhaps I still err in the following, and I am open to any helpful correction.

In examining the policy as posted on the city website here, I did a search for the number "20" and for it written, "twenty."

In searching "twenty" no matches were found.

In searching "20" all I found was Section 6, sub. 10 (at the page break, pp 5-6); see underlining:

10. Benefit Appraisals. In the event that City staff has doubt as to whether the proposed assessments exceed the special benefits to the property(ies) in question, the City Council may order benefit appraisals or benefit appraisal consultations as deemed necessary to support the proposed assessments. As a general rule, benefit appraisals or benefit appraisal consultations may be ordered when the proposed assessment exceeds $5,000 for a standard city street reconstruction project on a residential lot, or $20,000 per acre for commercial or industrial property.

That is it. Zippo otherwise. I thought in discussions a 20% limit was made the existing cap on amounts homeowners would be assessed. Apparently I am wrong.

If there is no such cap, residents should be aware of that, and if I still am in error in presuming there is no percentage cap on something called "benefit" to a property, I should be made aware of exactly what is going on. I admit to perplexity, and am concerned about why that is.

Helpful comments to help me out of the dilemma from any/all readers, officials or solely residential or business taxpayers, would be welcome at this point and any/all readers are urged to help.

Possibly the confusion arises from vagaries in the document such as:

The cost of any improvement shall be assessed based upon benefits received. The following general principles shall be used as a basis of the City’s assessment policy:

1. Project Cost. The “project cost” of an improvement includes the costs of all necessary construction work required to accomplish the improvement (direct costs), plus engineering, legal, administrative, financing and other contingent costs, including acquisition of right-of-way and other property (indirect costs). The finance charges include all costs of financing the project. These costs include, but are not limited to, financial consultant’s fees, bond rating agency fee, bond attorney’s fees, and capitalized interest. The interest charged to the project shall be included as financing charges.

2. City Cost. The “city cost” of an improvement is the amount of the total improvement expense the City will pay as determined by Council resolution. Where the project cost of an improvement is not entirely attributed to the need for service to the area served by the improvement, or where unusual conditions beyond the control of the owners of the property in the area served by the improvement would result in an inequitable distribution of special assessments, or for any other reason determined by the City, the City, through the use of other funds, may pay such “city cost.”

3. Assessable Cost. The “assessable cost” of an improvement is equal to the “project cost”
minus the “city cost.”


Subd. 1. General Statement. There are three different methods of assessment: adjusted front footage, area, and per lot. The feasibility report will recommend one or a combination of these methods for each project, based upon which method would best reflect the benefit received for the area to be assessed. The City Council will select the preferred method of calculating the assessments along with other applicable assessment criteria.

Subd. 2. Policy Statement. The following methods of assessment, as described and defined below, are hereby established as the preferred methods of assessment in the City.

A. “Adjusted Front Footage” Method of Assessment.

The “adjusted front footage” method of assessment is based on the quotient of the “assessable cost” divided by the total assessable frontage benefiting from the improvement. [...]

B. “Area” Method of Assessment.
The “area” method of assessment is based on the number of square feet or acres within the boundaries of the appropriate property lines of the parcels benefiting from the project. [...]

C. “Per Lot” Method of Assessment.
The “per lot” method of assessment is based on equal assessment of all lots within the benefited area. This method is typically applied to single-family residential lots with similar sizes and configurations. The “assessment per lot” shall be the quotient of the “assessable cost” divided by the total assessable lots or parcels benefiting from the improvement. For the purpose of determining the “lots” or “parcels” all parcels, including those owned by governmental entities, shall be included in such calculations.

"Typically," is a weasel word if ever there was one. Typically the street in front of the house is not worked on by city staff or contractors. Typically, garbage gets picked up on my street every Monday.

Which "typically" am I to find most reliable? You tell me. I believe the garbage truck situation carries predictability, the other does not.

The thing does not say "we will" assess one way for commercial/industrial sites, the same or differently for dwellings. And no 20% committment is included. Not expressly, and if by implication, please point me to the language from which I am to infer such an implication.

It says "typically" and typically taxpayers don't like giving governments blank checks.

"Typically" I go to bed and wake up the next morning, having not died in my sleep. It's the atypical I worry over and distrust; in that context, and otherwise.

Clarity in writing is a gift, a talent not universally held.Often, however abstruseness is an intent.

"TRUST ME," as a policy has its gaps.

I am just plain sorry, but I need a weatherman here, to explain which way the wind blows.

BOTTOM LINE: Is this clear policy? Is it good policy? Does it need a referendum to see if people want it? How would a ballot question on that 13 pages be fairly worded, in a balanced way?

I believe there is a public hearing set for this thing, and if a reader would be kind enough to remind me what day that would be, I would be most appreciative.

Clarity for me may arise at such a public hearing.

My understanding is that in some limited time after such a public hearing citizens who might remain perplexed and uncertain may by petition cause a referendum. Obviously, until there is that public hearing, it would be only guesswork what may result, up front at the council table, after citizens are fully heard.

____________FURTHER UPDATE_____________
I am most thankful for Chris Riley and his attention and direct help. Per a comment already published he pointed out operative language where 25% and not 20% was the operative provision, explaining my inability to find a 20/twenty reference. For readers, again this link, Section 10, sub. 2 and 3. Hunting needles in haystacks is not my forte, and Chris has understood that and willingly accomodated me that way. Again, hat tip to Chris. He has been a gentleman in helping.

___________FURTHER FURTHER UPDATE__________
With bonding sufficient to cover for the high-end estimate of what road work may prove necessary, the best interests of taxpayers, in general in Ramsey, is to not cause any unnecessary referendum which might delay getting a current rate of interest in bonding.

The lowest of low rates have passed, but rates still are more favorable now than what is likely months from now. There is wisdom in getting the bonds out the door now, given that staff and the elected representatives have considered options and made that choice.

Having trust in that the bonding and subsequent work, as stated by several officials, will not be used for any stealth extensions of sewer/water into neighborhoods where well and septic system upkeep and renovation costs have been incurred, questions of related protective wording considerations in the Charter are not of immediate consequence, and can be addressed on an orderly non-urgent timetable.

Other Charter reforms may be deliberated, but this particular one should be fairly universally acceptable and non-controversial. Does that mean it is for next year's agenda? No. The Charter Commission needs to meet at least once annually, and in the course of that schedule the Chap. 8 language can be tightened. And while there is not one single best wording, there are some thoughts that can be expressed several ways while still meeting the consideration that impositions besides assessments, under current wording, could be implemented in circumvention of protective language.

Other Charter change proposals might be controversial, but this scrivening correction should not.

1 comment:

Chris Riley said...

Read section 10. Reconstruction is assessed at 25%; however, the assessment is limited to the increase in property value. The first 2 projects studied have been much less than 25% of cost. Both about 7.5% of street reconstruction cost. This will be the norm for much of Ramsey's large lot developments.