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Council answers part of assessment quandary

The Billings County Pioneer of Medora, North Dakota

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BELFTELD — Progress was made on Sept. 15 as the Belfield City Council dealt with street tax protests and the scope of the related project.

The council reviewed three options that were presented by Thomas Schmelzenbach, an engineer with KU engineering. About 30 people were in the audience.

When the costs were presented in August, the figures included $1.3 million for waterline improvements, chip seal work and a railroad waterline project, plus engineering fees for those two waterlines. However, those projects apparently weren't advertised as a part of nearly city wide street work that was proposed. The work related fo the $1.3 million was then pulled out of the $7.73 million that was estimated for street reconstruction work.

So option one became the $7.73 million in street work, less the $1.3 million.

Option two also excludes the street work in the southeast district of Belfield, which brought the street cost down to $6.55 million. Some residents in southeast Belfield were the most vocal about the thousands of dollars of assessments they were facing. Removing the southeast district means their assessments would instead become a few hundred dollars. All properties in town are to pay a few hundred dollars, which results from everyone having to share in the cost of the citywide work. In parts of town, such as the Makaruk addition, or where the streets have already been dug up, assessments apparently may decrease by a few hundred dollars per lot, but depending upon the lot sizes or the number of properties owned, total assessments per person in those areas will still amount to several thousand dollars.

The third option removes the southeast district, plus some additional streets in the northeast portion of Belfield.

The cost of mobilization — which is the contractor's cost of bringing his equipment to town — is $542,000, said Schmelzenbach.

Lants Hurt, council member, essentially asked if the project would become less cost effective, if some of the streets aren't reconstructed.

The engineer said that by change orders to the contract, some streets can be dropped. However, the mobilization cost will remain, and the figures presented include spreading that cost to the districts where street work is continuing, said Schmelzenbach. Some costs are being revised upward, according to the conditions or work encountered as the project has been moving forward, the engineer added.

Resident Don Denning suggested that maybe it would be best to continue to include the southeast district in the project as a way to spread the costs.

Jeff Iverson, council member, said more thought has been given to the southeast area, which lacks storm drains. Maybe that needs to be changed, for a future project, so that it also included storm drains, said Iverson.

Hurt said excluding the southeast area would involved "throwing away the mobilization cost."

Council members decided to use option two, which removes the southeast area from the overall project. Hurt and Council Member Harold Kubischta voted against the motion, while Iverson, Mayor Leo Schneider and Council Member Bruce Baer were in favor. Baer's and Schneider's residences are in the southeast district.

"I wanted a (fixed) street, and I wanted it pretty bad," said Schneider. Streets in that part of the city are falling apart, due to prior conditions, and partly due to the construction of homes and the moving of homes into the part of the city in recent years.

Kubsichta said he doubted there would be future state money to help with more street construction. "I think they're going to be sittin' there holding the bag," he said. He essentially added that he hopes people don't forget how the current decision will carryover to the future.

Baer suggested that maybe new southwest and southeast districts should be created in which people pay in a few hundred dollars each year as a way to build up a fund for the future.

After current state funding is considered, the estimated amount of money the city will have to borrow through a bond sale is $3.15 million. The expected interest rates are 3.5 to 4.11 percent. Bond term options were 15 years or 20 years.

The council agreed to bond repayment terms of 20 years. Hurt cast the sole dissenting vote for the 20 years.

Discussion then shifted to the costs within the $1.3 million figure that included the waterline work.

City Auditor Natalie Muruato said she used a figure of $945,000 for the waterline work when she made a presentation to Stark County that included discussion of a county loan.

However, Schmelzenbach provided different figures based on the costs as they now exist from the field. His costs were about $200,000 higher, which meant that Muruato had asked for $200,000 too less. Muruato said the idea was to cover the water costs with a combination of a loan, plus using existing fund balances, such as that of the Heart River fund. The Heart River fund was intended for river channel maintenance and realignment, but federal funding for the realignment hasn't materialized.

The difference in figures led Schneider to say he wanted to see the original bid documents along with the new estimates. "This is enough," he said. "I want to see that right here," he said, patting his hand on papers on the council table.

Sandra Kuntz, city attorney, looking in Schmelzenbach's direction, added that the council wanted it clearly shown in engineering invoices that the city isn't being billed for the time it takes for him to correct his own errors.

The decision at the Sept. 15 that removed the southeast district means that the assessment letters that were sent out in August will have to be redone. Muruato said about 60 people have already sent in payments. She said new letters will be created once she has the new figures, and that she will also have inquire about what the payment deadline for the revised assessments will be.

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Original Publication Date: September 24, 2015

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