City to annex part of Austin Township

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If things go as planned, the Austin City Council could approve annexing 28 Austin Township properties into the city next month.

City officials say a majority of the 28 property owners, as well as Austin Township officials, are onboard with a plan to annex and install sewer lines to about 100 acres of property northwest of Austin in the Turtle Creek 1 neighborhood. The properties would be part of Austin starting next year.

Homeowners approached the city earlier this year seeking annexation for the city’s sewer and water services, after property owners received notice from Mower County that a majority of their sewage systems weren’t compliant to state code.

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The council initially appeared hesitant to annex properties after the city dealt with a protracted battle over sewer assessments to former Lansing Township properties earlier this year. Public Works Director Steven Lang told the council during its work session Monday that city officials are looking into potential solutions to assessment costs in this project.

One potential solution is to offer property owners a choice: Either pay the assessment cost for planned sewer work over the next several years, or wait to hook up to the sewer system. Non-compliant homes would have either 90 days or until July 1, 2015 to hook up to the sewer system, whichever time period is longer.

According to third-party appraisals, a sewer project could result in about a $20,000 assessment per property. Lang said the city has secured grants for residents to cover half that cost, but property owners would have to pay the full $20,000 fee if they chose to hook up later. Lang told the council the city wasn’t certain such a proposal could legally work and were looking into the solution.

Property owner Larry Ashley told the council there were perhaps three to four of his neighbors who were against the annexation, according to an informal survey done two years ago. Ashley said the annexation was inevitable, however.

“It’s state law,” he told the council. “It doesn’t matter what they want, eventually they’re going to have to get it done.”

Ashley was one of the homeowners who first approached the city for annexation. He and several homeowners expressed interest in hooking up to the city’s water supply as well. Lang told the council Monday night the city would have to survey residents separately and come to a major majority in order to start a water project.

The Austin Township board will vote on the annexation on Nov. 4, and the city council is expected to vote on the issue Nov. 18.

In other news, the council:

—Nominated Finance Director Tom Dankert to become the new city representative on the Hormel Foundation’s Board of Directors. The previous representative, former mayor John O’Rourke, is set to retire from the board at the end of next month.

—Approved a contract with Short Elliott Hendrickson to design and supervise several phases of the North Main Flood Control project. The engineering firm will be paid about $270,000 for its work. In addition, the council granted Lang approval to seek bids for on-site inspectors for the project, as one of the engineering department staff will soon retire. Lang said he is looking for at least one consulting inspector but could hire two depending on staff levels.

—Heard an update on the city’s floodplain mitigation efforts and management plan, essentially a review of the projects completed thus far. Community Development Director Craig Hoium told the council there were still 35 homes in Austin’s designated floodplains, which is considerably less than the 137 homes in the same areas in 2003.