Technical error results in potential assessment reprieve

Due to a recently discovered technical error that occurred during the year-long process for the 2013 Infrastructure Improvement Project, the dozen or so Waconia property owners that were facing assessments associated with the project are off the hook for those costs, at least for now. The situation was discussed during a public hearing on the assessments during the Waconia City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 4.
To review, the 2013 Infrastructure Improvement Project included street and sidewalk reconstruction on Cedar, Vine and Olive streets along with stormwater work in that area. Bituminous overlays were completed on Sparrow Road and the Ravenwood and Hilltop neighborhoods. Park and/or trail improvements were also made on Ravenwood Trail, Sugarbush Trail, Sugarbush Park, and Windmill Creek Park.
The total final project cost is estimated to be $800,208, which is $262,792 or 24.7 percent below the preliminary estimate. According to City Engingeer Jake Saulsbury of Bolton & Menk, the reasons for the lower than expected costs included low contractor bid prices, a minimal need for soil corrections, little to no extra work items or quantity overruns, and the use of on-site material (such as recycling existing bituminous).
The city’s portion of the total cost is $726,101, which is $231,199 below the preliminary estimate, and the total final assessed amount was to be $74,107, which is $31,593 or 29.9 percent less than the preliminary estimate.
However, in response to the error, which involved a missed legal notice, Acting Mayor Kent Bloudek read a statement before the start of the public hearing, which read, in part:
“I want to let you know that our staff has identified a technical problem with the published notice for the Improvement Hearing on Nov. 19, 2012. Due to the technical problem, staff is recommending that we not move forward with assessing the project costs to the property owners at this time. If the City Council follows staff recommendation, we will continue to evaluate whether we have the ability to reassess this project in the future.”
Greg Proulx and Clarence Hudinski were the only citizens to speak at the public hearing.
Proulx felt his property had not received enough special benefit from the project to warrant the proposed assessment. He also noted an increase in traffic on his street and expressed concerns related to safety. Hudinski, who owns HEI Collision in downtown Waconia, felt some aspects of the project were unnecessary and he told the council that he’s thinking about moving his business out of the city because he feels the taxes are too high.
At the end of the public hearing, the council voted 3-0 (Mayor Jim Nash and Councilor Marc Carrier were absent) to follow the staff recommendation to not move forward with the assessments at this time. For now, the city will cover the additional $74,107 in project costs that were expected to come from the assessments through the project budget, which, as noted, was approximately $230,000 under earlier estimates.
As explained by City Administrator Susan Arntz, it was discovered that the published notice for the improvement hearing in the fall of 2012 was not published as required, although affected properties did receive a mailed notice for the improvement hearing and many of those citizens attended the hearing.
“On projects like this, we have a lot of staff that are involved in working on various components of the project,” Arntz said in regards to how the notice escaped publication, an issue that she believes has not occurred in the city before now. “Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure these items are completed.”
Arntz explained that Minnesota Statutes allow cities to reassess to correct errors.
“To do so, a new hearing would be called and property owners would receive notice,” she said, noting that a letter was mailed to the affected property owners to notify them of the council’s decision to not assess at this time and that the city will continue to explore whether it will reassess. Arntz added that there is no timeframe for making this decision; if the council decides to reassess, affected property owners would be notified.
Arntz said steps are being taken to ensure that this situation is avoided in the future.
“We have implemented a new checklist for projects like this that will be used by more than one party to improve internal control,” she said. “While I’m disappointed with our mistake, making this correction and handling it in the manner we did was the right thing to do.”
In other matters:
• A public hearing regarding the 2014 Infrastructure Improvement Project will be held during the next city council meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18. The city is also planning to hold a public information meeting regarding the 2014 levy and budget at city hall on Monday, Dec. 2.
Citizens that are affected by this project have been notified by the city. The project has an estimated total cost of $2.355 million and includes street reconstruction on First, Maple and Cedar streets, work in the Interlaken 4th Addition, trail and storm water improvements, park upgrades and fire station work.
• Citizens that are interested in serving on the Planning Commission, Park & Recreation Board, or the Commission on Aging in 2014 are encouraged to apply for open positions on these advisory boards. Terms that have not been made vacant due to resignation are for three years and start Jan. 1, 2014.
To learn more about the Park & Recreation Board and the Commission on Aging, contact Parks & Recreation Director Craig Sinclair at (952) 442-3103 or csinclair@waconia.org. For information on the Commission on Aging, contact Arntz at (952) 442-3100 or sarntz@waconia.org. One can also stop by city hall or visit the city’s website at www.waconia.org. Applications are due by Saturday, Dec. 7.
• Due to the large amount of leaves that are still on trees or in yards, the city is holding two additional compost dates. The first occurred last Saturday, Nov. 9, and the second one will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at Public Services on Saturday, Nov. 16. Drop off fees are $1 per bag and $10 per truck bed or small trailer load.
• The council accepted the resignation of firefighter Mike Wickenhauser, who was an introductory firefighter who had served for only a few months. The city is actively looking for a replacement.
According to Fire Chief Mark Morse, the department has 33 members with two openings.
“We are recruiting interested folks and accepting applications at this time,” Morse said. “If someone is interested, they can contact me with questions at fire@waconia.org or complete and submit an application online at www.waconia.org and I will contact them. To be eligible, the minimum requirements are that the candidate is 21 years of age, lives within an 11 minute drive to the fire station, pass a pre placement physical and background checks and has the time to commit.”
• The council approved four amendments to the city code related to permits, licenses and fees.
The first change is groups wanting to rent the walking/running track at Safari Island will now have to pay a $45 per hour fee whereas before there had been no charge. The second change is a $25 application fee for those who rent park space that would like to serve beer or wine during their event. The application includes the specific rules and regulations that would need to be followed by the renter. Previously, there was no fee.
The third change is related to towing services during the winter months. The new towing charge is now $130 per offense whereas before it was the actual costs of the towing. The illegally parked vehicle storage fee is increasing from $10 to $30 per day (vehicle owner must pay all fees — parking ticket, towing charge and staff and notification fees). The fourth change involves a new fee that ranges from $50 to $200 per day for the use of cones and barricades to provide traffic control for contractors looking to block off public streets for private projects.
• In relation to the 2014 Infrastructure Improvement Project, the city will outsource a number of soil borings near the fire station and on First Street in order to review potential soil corrections that could be needed for sub-surface items on First Street and stabilization for the fire station’s new concrete apron.
According to Public Services Director Craig Eldred, the work is expected to occur in a couple of weeks. Depending on depth, each boring will take approximately 45 to 60 minutes and no traffic disruptions are expected as a result of this work.
• The storm water reuse project has begun at the end of First Street near Bayview Elementary School.
The project is a combined effort of the Carver County Water Management Organization (CCWMO) , the city of Waconia, and the Waconia School District. Its purpose is to capture storm water for use in irrigating the athletic fields at Bayview. Phase One includes the installation of the initial piping, treatment structure and the first in a series of six containment tanks to hold rain water for irrigation purposes.
CCWMO acquired grant funding to cover the costs related to Phase One. The city is assisting through the use of roadway easements for the site, storm water infrastructure improvements as reconstruction occurs in the neighborhoods, and providing a pumping system for irrigation purposes. The city has received grant funding from the CCWMO for this work. The school district is constructing a support well, electricity, irrigation connection and some use of property to allow for connections and discharge of the system when needed.
• Although the ordinance related to on-street parking within the downtown business district is not actively being enforced at this time, officials are planning to start reminding citizens that on-street parking in that district is supposed to be 90 minutes or less through flyers that describe the ordinance and provide information on alternative parking locations. The effort is in response to complaints about people abusing the ordinance.
• Citing its right as an at will employer, the employment of Kelly Hart Arman was terminated. Arman had served as an On Site Manager at Safari Island.
• The council’s next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18.

Contact Todd Moen at todd.moen@ecm-inc.com

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