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Menahga questions assessment appeal

A Menahga resident said he was unhappy with his CSAH 21 infrastructure project assessments and requested to file for an appeal.

The Menahga City Council received an e-mail from Dean Swanson, who said his assessments were twice the preliminary amount he was told in July.

But Swanson didn't follow the proper appeal procedure that's required by state law, therefore he will now have until the end of the month to file an appeal with district court if he chooses to do so.

At Monday's council meeting, city administrator Teri Osterman explained to the council that Swanson sent her a complaint about his high assessment costs. He didn't state that he wanted to appeal prior to the assessment hearing, as required by state law.

The notice that stated his appeal was sent to the Blueberry Bugler and someone at that newspaper forwarded it on to city hall the night of the assessment hearing Nov. 30.

His complaint was acknowledged at the assessment hearing and noted in the minutes, but his appeal wasn't received until the assessment hearing ended.

Osterman said Swanson had been dealing with her via e-mail and instead of sending his appeal directly to her, he asked someone at the Blueberry Bugler to hand deliver it to city hall.

"I don't know why it has to go through an outside third party, cross the name off, give it to somebody else, bring it to city hall," Osterman said. "However I think his e-mail opens the door to take it to district court."

She added that according to city attorney Jeff Pederson, if the council wants to be a stickler on the rules, Swanson now has until Dec. 30 to appeal - 30 days from the assessment hearing.

But if the council were to make a motion that his appeal was heard at the Dec. 14 meeting instead, that gives him 14 extra days to file his appeal.

"Jeff said in a court of law, it will look like you have went over and above to extend a courtesy to him even though he didn't follow state law," Osterman said.

"But I'm not sure that we can," councilwoman Maxine Norman said.

Norman added that she personally received a letter from Swanson expressing his concern over why his appeal wasn't discussed at the assessment hearing.

"You did not have to listen to his appeal that night because he didn't follow state statute," Osterman said.

Swanson's 4,840 square foot lot was assessed $12,064. Another lot that's 7,500 square feet was assessed $12,152.

Most assessments for that project ran around $12,000 and Osterman said nobody's assessments came in twice as much as the preliminary estimates.

The council agreed that all lots received the same benefits and were assessed fairly.

No motion was made to grant Swanson the extension to appeal.

In other business, the council:

-Approved a special assessment deferral policy for senior citizens whose assessments constitute financial hardships.

Any senior who would like to participate in the program must apply by Dec. 1 of each year their property is on the assessment schedule.

Seniors must be 65 or older, living in a homestead property, and with income that does not exceed $37,700 for a household of two persons.

To apply, call the city administrator at 564-4557.

-Approved the new two-year contract for fire department services in Blueberry, Huntersville and Shell River townships, based on the Fire Committee's recommendation.

The city will pay 51 percent of the total cost of operating the fire department and the townships will split the remainder of the contract, the 49 percent, by percentage based on their tax capacity.

The council will present the contract to the townships at a meeting to be held Jan. 22.

-Approved certification of delinquent water and sewer accounts to be assessed on those accounts' property taxes at the end of the year if not paid by Dec. 31.

Lillie Riemann was one property owner whose account was listed as delinquent because she failed to pay her water bill since January.

She told the council that she shut her water off herself when she moved out of her home in January and that she wasn't aware she was still being billed until she received a letter notifying her that her account was delinquent.

Deputy clerk Susie Larson said Riemann should have notified the city that she was no longer living at her home so that she doesn't get charged the standard service rate.

The council voted to take Riemann off the list of delinquent accounts due to confusion over whether or not she was aware she should have contacted the city to shut her water off completely.

-Accepted a $900 donation from First National Bank of Menahga and Sebeka for shipping of new playground equipment at the city beach. The council also thanked Spirit Lake Lumber for their donated time and equipment to unload the playground.

-Appointed Liz Olson to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

-Approved an agreement with Wadena County Public Health to provide services for senior health screenings and education clinics at the HeadStart building.

-Approved starting the monthly regular meetings at 6 p.m. beginning Jan. 11.