JS Niedenfuer, St. Joseph
As a resident of the neighborhood in question, I’d like to make a couple of points in response to Cori Hilsgen’s recent article on the Park Terrace matter. First, I wonder if she spoke to any residents. She writes: “Many residents agree the project is needed…” but doesn’t actually quote anybody. I, for one, have profound doubts about the engineer’s assessment of the state of our infrastructure. After all, it’s in the city engineer’s financial interest to see this project undertaken.
Also, and importantly, it isn’t about residents “want[ing] the benefit to equal the assessment,” as in it’s something that would be nice to have, like a warm spring or a day off with pay. It’s our right under law. This is from a Minnesota House of Representatives brief: “The assessment amount charged to the property cannot exceed the amount by which the property benefits from the improvement, as measured by the increase in the market value of the land due to the improvement.” To assess more than the gain is “a taking of property, and violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution.” Put another way, when the city assesses more than the property owners gain in the value of their homes, the city is stealing from its residents.
This city has always assessed without any regard whatsoever to gain, choosing instead an arbitrary 60/40 split of the project costs. And as long as nobody griped, they were going to keep right on doing that. But two years ago, we did gripe, and to their credit, when reminded of their constitutional responsibilities, your city government took a long stride toward the light. They hired an appraisal to be conducted on Park Terrace in order to establish the likely gain. The figure arrived at was $4,000 to $5,000 per residence, regardless of front footage. But in the end that was not enough to meet a threshold in the bonding statute, and the matter was tabled. Now it’s back – with a new appraisal promised. This time by someone coming up from the Twin Cities. It’s my sincere hope the city has not been shopping for a firm that will give them a number they can use. I do wonder why they had to go so far afield when there are many fine local appraisers who could do the work.
It’s key to bear in mind special assessments are intended to pay for new improvements to neighborhoods, such as paved streets, municipal sewer and water, police and fire protection. Park Terrace already has working city services. It has water, sewer, curb and gutter. It has police and fire protection. Repairs to existing systems are not “improvements,” and trying to couch them as such is a shameful act, unworthy of this city.