Protests from village property owners affected by road projects prompt officials to offer financing plan
Saukville Village Board members proved last week they were in no mood to rubber-stamp special assessments following a 90-minute public hearing that drew more than 40 upset residents.
The assessments cover the cost of curb and gutter, sewer, driveway approach and sidewalk replacement planned in conjunction with road reconstruction in the 100 and 200 blocks of Colonial Parkway and on both sides of West Linden Street and Linden Court.
The work, which is scheduled to start later this month and be completed by November, affects 50 properties.
The total project cost is expected to be $862,000, with special assessments to individual property owners ranging from $1,200 to $7,900.
The mood of the residents facing those assessments worsened when Ruekert & Mielke, the project engineer, admitted it made a calculation mistake on affected road frontages.
That required a second assessment notification to be sent out, resulting in increased charges for most property owners.
“It was our mistake and I don’t know what more I can say than I am sorry,” senior project manager Gerald Powell told the audience during the hearing.
Village Administrator Dawn Wagner talked about the assessment error with trustees during the Finance Committee meeting that preceded the public hearing.
“It is hard enough when people are worked up about facing a special assessment, but then to have to say an error was made and has to be corrected just adds to the stress,” Wagner said.
Powell spent the rest of the time during the hearing explaining how specific assessments were calculated and fielding questions about how property owners must connect to the new sewer lines.
In most cases, that will involve hiring a contractor to install a new lateral connecting the home with the replaced sanitary sewer line.
According to village code, property owners must also connect their sump pumps to new storm sewers within one year of the sewer line replacement.
Those costs will be at the property owners’ expense, and come in addition to the special assessment charges.
“I understand nobody likes special assessments, not the people up here who make them and not the people out there who have to pay them,” Powell said.
“The goal is to be set for the next 20, 30 or 40 years.”
Residents took little comfort in that anticipated long-range timetable, with many questioning why they were being asked to replace adequate amenities.
“Why is the village going to charge me $1,300 for a new driveway apron when I have a perfectly good asphalt apron?” asked Colonial Parkway resident Ron Colby.
Another distraught resident said she faced $5,000 in assessment charges and another $3,000 in contractor costs to connect to the sewer line.
“How am I supposed to afford all of this?” the woman asked.
Although officials said they don’t have the authority to waive individual assessments, they took the plea for compassion to heart.
Village President Barb Dickmann crafted a multi-part motion to minimize the impact of the assessments by spreading the cost over an extended period of time.
The financing plan approved by the board gives property owners facing assessments of more than $3,000 up to seven years to pay, and up to 10 years for those with assessments greater than $5,000.
Both options are expansions of the village’s past practice of allowing assessment charges to be spread over no more than five years.
The extended payment plan will offer an interest rate of 2.75%, and interest charges can be avoided if payment is made prior to November of next year.
The assessment charges will first appear on the local property tax bill in November of 2015.
Deferred assessment costs would have to be paid at the time a property is sold, which Wagner said is typically a requirement of any mortgage lender.
In addition, Dickmann asked that the $50 permit fee that would normally be charged for the sewer connection be waived.
Those inspections will still be done by the Village of Grafton staff, as all inspections are, but the Village of Saukville and not individual property owners will cover the cost.
Trustees took the assessment resolution beyond what Dickmann recommended, saying the charges should be based on the original assessments prepared by Ruekert & Mielke — before the calculation error was discovered.
The difference will be covered by the village, which is expected to pay about $650,000 of the project cost.