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Public opposed to street, utility project

The proposed street and utility project includes End of the Day Drive and Eagle Ridge Circle.

Proposed street and utility improvements on Eagle Ridge Circle and End of the Day Drive are not needed or wanted, property owners told the Park Rapids City Council at Tuesday's public hearing.

However, the council questioned if it could legally not move forward with ordering plans and specifications for the project because it is outlined in a Todd Township orderly annexation agreement from 2002. The deadline to order plans and specifications is May 1, 2012, according to the orderly annexation agreement.

No decisions were made at Tuesday's meeting but City Administrator Bill Smith has been in contact with the city's attorney and Todd Township officials about the possibility of amending or delaying the project in the agreement. The council was scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Friday to consult with its attorney, which is after the Enterprise went to press.

"Our attorney will participate in the council meeting by phone and his advice is going to be that the city would not be defaulting on any of its obligations under the agreement should it not pass a resolution to order the plans and specifications," Smith said. "His interpretation of the agreement is that May 1 was merely a triggering date and that the city could order plans and specs on that date or thereafter and it had three years to do so."

Also, Todd Township's attorney is working with the city's attorney to make sure everyone is on the same page.

"Once we get past this little crisis of whether the city's got to act or not, the city and township needs to get together and work on something or consider amending the orderly annexation agreement," Smith said. "Then the time pressure will be off."

Tuesday's public hearing included a presentation of a proposed project for the Todd Township Phase III annexation area. Property owners were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed project, which includes sanitary sewer and water main improvements.

City engineer Jon Olson said the proposed project is Phase III of the orderly annexation agreement. Phases I and II were completed in 2004.

Cost estimates for the project total $837,300 with $223,600 as the city's share and $613,700 assessable to property owners. The estimated assessment for an average 100-foot interior lot is $16,900.

Several residents in the proposed improvement area voiced opposition to the project.

Ron Jensen said he would like the council to consider delaying the project 10 years. He questioned whether the project was necessary, cost-effective and feasible.

"I'm not sure that's been answered," he said.

Tom Spahn said he was in favor of the annexation and project 10 years ago but the situation has changed with the economy.

"I hope everyone uses common sense," he said.

Janel Stewart said her family has multiple large lots and the assessments will be large.

"My concern is do we need water and sewer at this price? With the economic conditions right now, does this make sense?" she asked.

Jim Harding said he is strongly opposed.

"The costs exceed the benefits," he said.

Several residents said their water and sewer were good and switching to cit services wouldn't be an improvement.

Resident Nancy Nyhus said she is retired and the assessments would be a significant hardship.

"I'm a widow with a wonderful little house with great neighbors. There's no way I can afford this on Social Security," she said.

Dick Devine said he owns five lots in the proposed project area so he would see assessments on each lot.

"I wonder how any of you would like to be 72 and get a bill for $100,000," he told the council.

The neighborhood has a lot of retired people on fixed income, he added.

Councilmembers Paul Utke and Pat Mikesh said they saw no reason to move forward with the project.

"When people can't afford it, the city can't afford it," Mikesh said.

Councilmember Sue Tomte wondered about the annexation agreement and if the city was bound by it to move ahead with the project.

Councilmember Dave Konshok said it was important to remember that annexation isn't just about water and sewer. It's a bigger picture and a larger process, he said.

Also, the city already has $300,000 in deferred assessments along Highway 71 that will continue to be deferred until this project is completed.

Mayor Nancy Carroll was part of the annexation agreement process 10 years ago and wanted to make sure the city followed its part of the agreement.

She suggested contacting the city's attorney to have more information and then possibly re-negotiate with the township to push back the project.

The council was set to make a decision Friday afternoon.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561