The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 14, 2013

Mankato moves ahead with Lime Township annexation despite complaints

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — The annexation of 74 Lime Township parcels moved forward Monday, as the Mankato City Council agreed to solicit bids for the estimated $3.1 million project to extend sewer, water and the city itself.

The project, though, could still be halted.

And if enough residents formally object to the process — and an average of perhaps $40,000 in assessments — in the coming months, it just might.

Tim Cherney, a Bittersweet Lane resident, said his septic system is working, and he already has clean water.

“The kids can use the toilet whenever they want,” he said. “I have seven children, too.”

“... It’s really not increasing the value of my home,” he said of the utility project. “I’m getting nothing from it except a 40,000-dollar bill,” he said, later clarifying that his total cost may be closer to $38,000.

Indeed, dozens of residents just north of Mankato are suffering from sticker shock. In Schaefer’s subdivision, which includes 51 of the affected lots, the project’s average estimated price per lot is roughly $30,624.16, plus $8,000 to $12,000 in other fees.

But, short of delaying 2013 road projects to free up some cash, the City Council had little but kind words to offer.

“These are actual costs. We’re not making money on this,” Councilman Jack Considine said. “I’m not sure what else we’re going to do. I don’t really see another alternative.”

Residents are slated to pay 66 percent of the total project cost — more than double the share paid by other utility projects. They are paying so much, proportionately, because they are getting more benefit by going from no city services to all city services in one stroke.

But some residents testified that they didn’t think the project would raise the value of their home by the amount of the assessment — a requirement under state law.

Councilwoman Karen Foreman noted that many or most of the properties have failing septic systems, which would have to be replaced if the parcels were sold. No one is quite sure how pervasive the problem is because inspections have been delayed pending an expected hookup to city sewer.

“If you have a noncompliant system and your property’s worth nothing,” she said, “that seems to be a substantial increase in the value of the property.”

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges agreed that some parcels may not see value increases equal to the assessment costs.

“It would be a crapshoot whether there’s a value increase or not,” he said.

Property owners can appeal to district court if they believe the assessment is unwarranted.

Hentges said if, for example, half the Schaefer’s subdivision properties object then “there’s a fair amount of (legal) risk going forward with the project.”

But delays carry their own costs, including higher bids.

“That’s why this is a difficult project,” he said.

The council is slated to consider levying assessments in February.