Sewer assessment creates unrest

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, July 17, 2012

About 70 people filled the chambers for the City Council's public hearings Monday night to speak their minds on the assessments for a sanitary sewer and an Austin man's dangerous dog. -- Kevin Coss/

In front of a packed council chamber, the Austin City Council voted 5-2 Monday evening to finalize the amount that each property owner in the northeast annexation would need to pay for the installation of its sanitary sewer. Marian Clennon and Judy Enright, the two council members who represent the ward the project is in, voted against the assessment.

Residents on the receiving end of the $867,000 project — which provides a sanitary sewer system to the annexation and will cost about $15,000 per parcel — showed up to voice their disapproval on a variety of grounds, from concerns about the size of their properties making them accountable for two assessments, to worries that the installation would yield far less value to their properties.

“It wouldn’t increase our value by one dime,” resident Jim Davis said he was told by a prominent real estate agent whose name he would not provide.

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James Jorgensen said he was barely able to hang on to his property as it was, and feared the assessment would make it difficult to keep it.

Other residents were more direct with their disapproval.

“I’d have to point a gun at somebody to get them to buy it,” said Mapleview resident Bob Allen of his property. He said the city was assessing an amount higher than the value of the sewer’s benefit, and he would take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Before the vote was taken, Brian McAlister told objectors they could file complaints with the district court if they were still dissatisfied after the council made its decision.

Once the council approved the assessment amount, Mayor Tom Stiehm assured attendees the council had listened to their concerns.

“We hear what you’re saying,” he said. Several of the objectors reacted with audible scoffs and laughs as they rose to leave.

The vote came following a public hearing for residents who had objected to their initial assessments. Out of the approximately 200 parcels of property affected, about 50 objected to the initial amount. The city hired an appraiser to evaluate six different properties that represented the different property categories the rest of the area would fall under.

Other business:

During the regularly scheduled meeting and the work session that followed, the council also decided to:

—award a bid to Bernie’s Equipment Co. for the installation of a vertical conveyer in the Wastewater Treatment Plant administration building. The conveyer will effectively be the same as the old elevator it would replace, except that it can only carry freight, not passengers, and would cost 35 to 50 percent as much.

—approve hiring of a new, part-time community service officer at the police department to replace the present one, who retires at the end of July.

—approve “no parking” traffic signs on 16th Avenue NE, Fourth Street NE, 17th Avenue NE and Third Street NE for Hormel Foods Corp.’s Spamtastic Grand Opening Expansion Celebration. The signs will make room for shuttle buses to the corporate office. All other streets in the Wildwood Park neighborhood would allow one-sided parking.

—approve a list of polling places and election judges for the upcoming primary and general elections. Look to the Austin Daily Herald on Wednesday for more on this story.

—approve a stop sign near the dog park for northbound traffic on Second Street SE at the Fourth Avenue intersection.

—deny a request to remove two-hour parking signs from Fifth Place NW at the request of The Donut Connection, which cites difficulties finding long-term parking for the people who live and work in the area.

—grant the Planning and Zoning Department the power to contract for the removal of junk and illegally stored vehicles at five Austin properties: 909 Third Ave. NE, 802 First Ave. NW, 804 First Ave. NW, 602 Second Ave. NW and 2400 Fourth Drive SW.