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Proposed Two Harbors street, alley projects cause stir

The Two Harbors City Council's plan for assessing properties along a $1.6 million city streets and alleys repair project slated this year 2018 was met with strong opposition at a public hearing and special meeting Monday night.

If a contract is awarded this spring and the project moves forward, property owners along the eight affected streets and alleys would foot nearly half the $1,598,870 bill - $1,703,690 if an optional Ninth Street sidewalk and paved alleys are approved.

"I wish we didn't have to go this route, but from a funding standpoint and spending a lot of time looking at it - how can we afford this?" City Council Vice President Cathy Erickson said. "There's not a lot of good news out there for anyone."

Assessments are estimated to begin at $2,500 per lot along some alleys, increasing by $500 to $1,000 if optional pavement is added. Along streets, assessments could range between $13,000 to $24,000 per lot. Assessments are typically paid by property owners over 15 years and will have an interest rate 1 percent higher than what the city pays.

During the public comment period, attendees expressed to the Council that they would like to see the streets and alleys repaired, but fear the assessments will be too much of a burden for property owners.

Uriah Hefter of Two Harbors used the end of his comments to address the crowd gathered for the hearing in City Hall.

"Fair or not, I'll ask the question because I'll be that guy," Hefter said, facing the attendees. "Show of hands — Who's for the project?"

No one raised their hand.

In a special meeting immediately after the hearing, the city unanimously approved the feasibility report outlining costs presented to the Council and public by city-hired engineer Joe Rhein, from Bolton and Menk, during the earlier public hearing.

The councilors then ordered the project plans, voting 6-1 with Robin Glaser casting the lone nay vote. But the action was far from an absolute go-ahead from the city. The Council can cancel the project or parts of the project up until a contract is awarded.

Glaser choked up prior to the vote when explaining her decision to vote no.

"I'm a little emotional because we have spent two years trying to put a project together because all we hear is what terrible condition our roads are in and our sidewalks ... so it's very difficult to sit in a room full of people right now who want nothing done. It's very difficult for me to vote in favor of moving this project forward when I'm almost certain that we are going to end up paying for the entire costs on our own if we move forward," Glaser said during Monday's meeting.

After deciding to cancel the 2017 Capital Improvement Plan roads and alleys project when the bids came in more than $200,000 over the estimate, the Two Harbors City Council had to start the process all over again for 2018 projects.

Residents at the hearing and meeting suggested the city look for additional funding sources to lessen the burden on property owners being assessed. The City Council could change the existing assessment policy.

Erickson explained that the city has looked at other options for funding road projects, such as a sales tax and levy increase.

2018 Project Schedule

• March 26 - City Council votes to approve plans

• April 24 - Open bids

• May 14 - Award contract

• June 1 - Start construction

• Oct. 12 - Construction substantially complete

• October - Determine final assessments

• Nov. 12 - Hold public assessment hearing