Western paving project put on hold
Protest petition given to council
GRAFTON – The Western Avenue paving project in the City of Grafton is on hold for now. That’s after the Grafton City Council, at its regular monthly meeting Monday voted to accept petitions from residents within the Western Avenue Paving Improvement District 37. After accepting the petitions, the council passed a motion to discontinue the the special assessment district pursuant to North Dakota Century Code.
Century code states that if 51 percent or more people within a special assessment district sign a petition, they have a right to opt out and not pay that specific special assessment.
According to Grafton City Auditor Connie Johnson, about 82 percent of the residents within the district signed the petition. She said although a few signatures had to be thrown out, it still was a clear majority.
The petitions were circulated by three residents who reside in the paving improvement district, Ronald Pich, Charles G. Thompson and Brian Sieben. All three live on West 15th Street.
A total of 38 property owners out of 57 (67 percent) who live on Western Ave., signed the petition.
The petition states, “In particular, we protest the allocation of the costs to be paid by a levy of special assessments within Paving Improvement District No. 37, as compared to those costs to be paid by a general levy on all taxable property within the city of Grafton, and, For the portion of the costs to be paid by the city, we urge a special assessment levy upon all property within the city, rather than a general levy on all taxable property within the city, and, we further protest the boundaries of Paving Improvement District 37, because much of the property included in the proposed improvement district is not specifically benefited by the project.”
Sieben addressed the council on behalf of those who signed the petition.
At its regular October meeting, the Grafton City Council passed Resolution 1667 creating the special assessment district for the Western Ave. project. In addition to Western Avenue proper, the district included portions of 15th, 16th and 17th streets, as well as all of North Star Drive.
Sieben said an informational meeting of concerned citizens was held in early November at St. John’s Parish Center in Grafton. He said a main concern brought out at that meeting was a perceived lack of communication between residents in the assessment district and the city council.
“There was really nothing said prior to you guys actually passing this resolution,” Sieben told the council. “That really concerned a lot of people here.”
Mayor Chris West addressed the communication issue.
“Per North Dakota Century Code, we do advertise our projects in the (official county newspaper),” West said.
Sieben said about 90 people attended the meeting in November and several signed the protest petitions that night. He said with 72 hours, 80 percent of residents within the district had signed the petitions.
“That tells me, something’s not right and this was an unfair resolution,” he said.
Sieben cited the fact that the city now bears the total cost of road construction projects. In the past 80 percent of road projects was covered by federal dollars. He said in light of that, he feels there should be more communication with assessment districts when it comes to road projects.
“This project was downsized so that the dollars that would have been assessed wouldn’t have been over and above what any other district in the past has paid,” West told Sieben.
Sieben said that wasn’t comparing “apples to apples” since other projects, like the north half of Western Ave. involved total reconstruction, sewer and curb and gutter work and the current project on Western Avenue only involves an overlay and curb and gutter work.
West said the city does receive roughly $300,000 a year in state funds to help for road projects. He said the city also received an additional $225,000 this year from the state.
According to West, not all roads in the city need total reconstruction, only those roads that are deemed as high travel areas.
Later in the discussion Thompson addressed the council and said that no one in town wants to pay more than they need to, but at the same time the city needs to maintain a quality road system.
He said he economic landscape for the city will see drastic changes in the next three to five years.
“We’re going to have to come up with a program that’s acceptable to all,” he said.
Next for the city council is to develop a funding formula that residents can live with. That process will most likely start beginning at the next city council meeting in January.
Grafton City Administrator Nick Ziegelman said there’s a slight chance the Western project could be completed in 2014, but it most likely won’t happen until the 2015 construction season at the earliest.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Grafton City Council is set for Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 in the council chambers at City Hall.