Judge sets aside Lansing assessments

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The city of Austin has one less lawsuit to worry about.

Mower County District Judge Donald Rysavy ordered $15,000-per-lot assessments set aside for the property owners of former Lansing Township land Tuesday, as the Austin City Council has decided to reassess 33 parcels whose owners challenged assessments on a sewer project completed in 2011.

Rysavy agreed with attorney Robert Ward, who asked the court to order Mower County officials to not charge the sewer project assessment to the property owners named in the case.

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“I guess this is what we expected,” said Helen Gardner, one of the property owners. Gardner and several other owners are contesting the assessments as well as the city’s reclassification of their land. Gardner technically owns two parcels of land in the city of Austin, though her property was grouped into one parcel in Lansing Township. As a result, she’s fighting a $30,000 assessment on the land she owns but doesn’t live on.

The city council voted 7-0 Monday night to reassess all properties in question after Rysavy’s ruling last month to set aside assessments on land owned by three property owners.

“I just hope the city does [the assessments] legally next time, and that they assess the properties properly,” Rich Kiker said. Kiker is another property owner whose land was split into two parcels. He has long said the city’s approach in charging a flat $15,000 assessment was wrong, and believes the properties should be assessed based on individual land value and the benefit the sewer project brought to each property.

The controversy started in 2006, when Austin and Lansing officials formed a committee to fix the township’s sewer issues, which included several properties piping sewage into the Cedar River. The committee eventually recommended Austin annex Lansing to connect homes to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Austin annexed 209.5 parcels of land in 2009, with the remainder of Lansing set for potential annexation in 2014.

The owners of about 60 parcels voiced their concerns about the annexation in 2010, after the city levied a $16,000-per-lot assessment fee for each parcel, which the city reduced to $15,000 after a subsequent reappraisal in 2012. Out of the remaining property owners, three successfully appealed their assessments last month when Rysavy ruled against the city, saying it was unreasonable to conclude the properties would benefit from the sewer project when those landowners showed their properties decreased in value.

Under state law, a city or municipality can’t assess a property for an infrastructure project by more than what the land would benefit.

The city is in the process of hiring an appraiser to re-evaluate and reappraise the 33 parcels of land in question, but one resident who agreed to the annexation told the council during its meeting Monday night he would protest any reassessment levied for certain properties if all 209.5 parcels weren’t reassessed. City officials said Monday they would wait for the reappraisal process to be done before making further decisions.