Archived Story

Council mulls ideas for future

Published 10:22am Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Austin City Council tabled discussion on important issues for 2013 at its council retreat Monday, instead hearing city department updates and throwing around potential ideas to pursue in the future.

Council members will make a list of important issues to the city at its next retreat meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Among the biggest issues to come out of the meeting is a discussion of the city’s assessment system. Council Member Jeremy Carolan asked Public Works Director Steven Lang whether the council had ever discussed paying for public works projects through an overall tax levy system, where the city levies projected costs to all taxpayers as opposed to levying half of any infrastructure project to affected property owners.

Carolan said he heard from other cities at a recent conference about the benefits of the tax levy system in paying for city projects, and how it cuts down on litigation and annexation costs. The city is dealing with several assessment appeals in Mower County District Court, including three property owners protesting a city sewer assessment on their land due to the Lansing annexation of 2009. The owners of 27 other land parcels will appeal their assessments next month.

“The cities that do it, love it,” Carolan said. “You don’t have any litigation. Everybody pays into the pool, and the pool is there to do projects.”

While the council and city officials expressed interested in researching tax levies, Lang cautioned the council on making a switch.

“Once you start a process, it’s very difficult to switch midstream,” Lang said. “Because of that, I don’t know that there’s been a lot of thought in switching.”

Though Lang said he would prefer a tax levy system, he pointed out the city has many 15-year assessments on property owners for past public works process, and warned some residents who have recently been assessed for projects would most likely voice criticism with the switch.

“We have people who are paying those assessments right now,” he told the council. “What do you with all those people if you switch over to a tax levy system?”

According to Carolan, other cities that made the switch benefited in the long run. Mayor Tom Stiehm said he would support a tax levy system switch, and city officials will likely research the issue.

The city is expected to start the assessment process for street improvement projects scheduled this summer. City officials will hold public hearings Wednesday on those projects.

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