The Granite Falls City Council held the final assessment hearing for the proposed Barber Circle/Daniels Drive project in the Highland Park area. Barber Circle and Daniels Drive are platted streets that have never been developed.

Several concerned lot-owners attended the hearing. Letters expressing concern were submitted by Kim Malmquist, Cal and Kris Christian, Heidi and David Lipps and Steve Barber. Many of them also voiced their concerns at the meeting. Mayor Smiglewski mentioned that he and several council members and had talked with lot-owners about their concerns prior to the meeting as well.

The lowest bid received for the project was from Quam Construction of Willmar in the amount $635,549.70. With engineering and other associated project costs of $127,000, the total project cost came to $762,549.70. The current final assessments were;

•Sanitary Sewer and Water (per lot) $8,760. Street construction and paving (per lineal foot) $63.50

•Curb and Gutter (per lineal foot) $12.60

The proposed total assessed cost was $411,008, with an average assessment of $17,800 per lot. At that rate the property owner's share would be 54 percent and the city’s share would be 46 percent.

At the request of Mayor Smiglewski, City Engineer Mike Amborn presented several options to shift the ratios of these assessment costs. The council also discussed other options and adjustments to the assessments in order to move the project forward.

A number of property owners expressed concerns about the assessments stating that an assessment of $16,000 or more is a lot of money and would cause financial hardship. Steve Barber and Kris Christian noted a Minnesota statute which states that a special assessment cannot exceed the special benefit measured by the increase in market value due to the improvement. Several people expressed doubts about being able to sell their lot for the market value when adding the cost of the assessment. Barber, whose father was instrumental in getting the Highland Park area platted for development back in the 1970s and after whom the street is named, questioned if an appraiser had been brought in to estimate the value before and after the project.

There were several counter-points from City Attorney Greg Holmstrom, EDA Director Cathy Anderson, as well as some council members. They said that Barber Circle/Daniels Drive is a planned development area and was there to be developed. It was also stated that other cities have assessment rates that are much higher than Granite Falls, and in other cities, the lot owner would have to pay for assessments on lots, even if they weren't planning on developing the lot to sell. It was asserted that Granite Falls is land-locked, and there are limited options for housing construction. Council member Scott Peterson pointed out that staff at Pioneer Public Television are looking for housing, and many are currently commuting from the Appleton area. Anderson mentioned anecdotes about people who had looked for housing or lots and decided to live elsewhere when they couldn't find anything. She speculated that the reason some lots in the Barber Circle area haven't sold is because there isn't a road there, or the utilities.

Mayor Smiglewski mentioned that this project was considered for development 12 years ago, but there was significant resistance at that time and it was set aside. He said that he would like to find a way to make this project happen now. He mentioned how Clara City, during that same time, about 12 years ago, annexed an area into their city, installed utilities and a street and that the new subdivision is now all developed. "One problem is, in Highland Park, with nearly all of the lots being owned by individuals, every lot owner is, in effect, a developer, which makes it hard to do anything."

A compromise discussed at the preliminary assessment hearing some weeks ago, and supported by Barber, involve the three houses that abut the project to the north, on Aadland Drive. Each of those three own vacant lots on Barber Drive, adjacent to their homes and use those lots as additional backyard space. With no plans to build on those lots, they don't water and sewer utilities and don’t want to pay the utility assessment. The proposal would set aside the utility assessments but in the future, if these lots were to be developed and needed utilities for new construction, there would be a utility hook-up fee that would be equal to the assessment amount plus any other costs that the city incurred in regard to the project. There was some debate among the council members about the fairness of that, because it's pushing a small portion of the near-term cost back onto the rest of the city.

After nearly an hour of discussion, city council member Steve Nordaune made a motion to move forward with the project, and agreed to the compromise to suspend the utility assessment costs for the properties that are owned by the three adjacent home owners. The council also agreed to extend the street assessment re-payment timeline from eight years to 15 years, to match the water and sewer repayment timeline. Those assessed also have the option to pay the total cost within 30 days without accruing any interest, otherwise the payment gets included with their property taxes. In the case of that "future backyard development", if a lot gets split up and the unused one gets developed, the council has the option to remove the accrued interest and just charge the base assessment cost, which could otherwise make a lot difficult to sell. The council approved the motion. The contractor for the project plans to get utilities and a street grade roughed in yet this fall with final street work including curb and gutter as well as paving finished in the spring or summer of 2019.

2019 Budget and Levy

City Manager Crystal Johnson presented the 2019 budget to the city council as well as a proposed preliminary property tax levy for 2019. The truth-in-taxation hearing will be December 3rd at 6:30 p.m., and the final levy resolution will be acted on at the December 17th council meeting.

The city staff is proposing adding $196,232 to the levy. $100,000 of that is going to the offset expenses at the KCC. She mentioned that she and the city staff think they may be able to get this amount down to $100,000. She still recommends the cushion so they can analyze the budget. Local Government Aid from the state increased by $2,164 for a total of $979,975 in 2019. The preliminary levy has to be agreed upon by the end of September and once enacted, it cannot be raised. The city council can however lower the levy amount

The total proposed General Fund levy will be $1,244,374, and if the city staff can get the levy increase down to $100,000, the total levy amount would be $1,148,142 in December. The debt service levy is proposed at $844,100, which is a $29,000 increase from 2018. For now the overall proposed levy is $2,088,474. In December it will probably be finalized around $1.9 million. It was noted that that this proposed increase, which is more than nine percent, is a bit high, but ti was also noted that the levy hadn’t been raised in a number of years, and Granite Falls has some significant projects in the works.

In other news:

Granite Falls Health administrator Tom Kooiman came to the council seeking approval to purchase 26.89 acres from Bob Ladner and Deb Ladner. The hospital’s long term plan is to eventually build an assisted living facility, which has been a goal for Granite Falls Health for a while. They wanted to secure the additional property which is next to the assisted living facility proposed site. They are also planning to sell the 10 northern most acres of the property to Dominic Johnson, since they don't need the entire parcel of land. The council approved the sale, pending a purchase agreement from Johnson.

Head Librarian Larissa Schwent updated the council about improvements to the Granite Falls Library. Library visits and check-outs are up. There were 16,000 visits in 2017, and about 2100 check-outs per month. The "unused collection" (books and materials that are rarely if ever checked out) went down from 25 percent to 4 percent. Part of that is from getting rid of some material, but also just getting more people to expand their literary horizons.

The council called for bids for electric line tree clearing. This was last done in 2015. City Manager Crystal Johnson said that the city puts aside money every year for this, and has over $90,000 set aside for the line clearing, which should make a significant dent in the needed work.