Aldermen approve special charges for road improvements despite last-minute protests from residents, businesses
Despite the threat of legal action and protests from residents and business owners along highways 33 and LL, the Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to assess property owners for improvements made to the roadways in a major reconstruction completed last year.
Only Ald. Bill Driscoll voted against the special assessments, saying that while the road improvements may benefit the businesses along the roads, they don’t benefit homeowners.
“Every time I went down that road, I said this has to take away from the value (of the houses),” Driscoll said.
But other aldermen said the assessments, which range from $144 to $45,000, are fair and consistent with past practices, noting the city has assessed property owners along other major roads, such as Highway 32, when they were urbanized and widened.
“We’ve got to look at what’s fair and we also need to be consistent,” Ald. Dan Becker said. “If we’re not consistent, it opens up a whole myriad of problems.”
“This is how we’ve handled assessments in the past,” Ald. Dave Larson said. “We can’t just pick and choose.
“I believe that road is much improved. There is some benefit there.”
But several affected property owners told aldermen they have not seen a benefit from the new road.
Ray Last, whose residential property at 2364 Hwy. 33 in the Town of Port is being assessed for $11,000, told aldermen that he lost more than half of his front yard, along with mature trees and plantings, when the road was widened and rebuilt.
“It doesn’t benefit us in the least,” he said. “We now have to go west to turn east (because of the median in front of his house).
“I just don’t understand how I can be expected to pay for something that benefits all of Saukville and Port Washington.”
Steve Boyea, whose Town of Port home and business, Stevlin’s Hardware, are being assessed $18,000, said he, too, lost property and mature plantings.
He hasn’t received any real benefit from the traffic on the road, Boyea said, even though the state Department of Transportation estimated 22,000 cars travel the highway each day.
“I can tell you there aren’t 22,000 cars coming into Stevlin’s Hardware each day,” he said.
“I don’t feel I should have to take you to court. I don’t want to. You’re our neighbor.”
Boyea told the council he and the other property owners shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of a major highway repair.
“Put up a tollbooth, I don’t care,” he said. “Those are the people who should be paying for the road.”
Mike Herbrand, an attorney retained by nine of the affected property owners whose assessments total more than $115,000, asked aldermen to reject the assessments, saying they do not specifically benefit the property owners.
“It’s an arterial highway,” Herbrand said. “(Coming east) it’s the gateway to the city.”
The city signed an agreement with the Department of Transportation that Herbrand said refers to projects like the Highway 33 reconstruction that use federal funds as “likely general improvements that primarily benefit the public at large and for which special assessments cannot be levied.”
The city also has no authority to charge residents for the multiuse path or to assess town residents, he said.
However, attorney John St. Peter, who is representing the city, noted that the Town of Port Washington signed an agreement saying they would not object to any special assessments for the project.
Town residents don’t need to pay the assessment until they annex their land to the city, he added, although interest will accrue.
The assessments have been reduced by 30% to 35% since preliminary estimates were released almost two years ago.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said that after reviewing the charges and final costs, the city eliminated some items from the assessments.
All property owners have the option of paying immediately or spreading their payments over a period of years with 3% annual interest.
Property owners are being charged for the sidewalk — 20% of the total cost along Highway 33 and 100% along Highway LL, Vanden Noven said. The difference in cost is due to the fact the state paid 80% of the cost on Highway 33 and none on Highway LL.
They are also being assessed 25% of the cost of one lane of the road, he said.
They aren’t being charged for the second traffic lane because the city determined the public benefits more than the property owner for that portion of the road, officials have said.