MOORHEAD — About 80 Moorhead property owners will be facing special assessments for unpaid charges for a variety of problems on their lots.
Community Development Director Kristie Leshovsky said her department received about 920 complaints in the past year about snow, grass, weed, tree and branch removals, rental inspection violations and other property maintenance problems in the city. Although most were taken care of, the 80 properties still owe about $47,000 for work done by the city or contractors to correct problems and for penalties.
Council members approved the assessments, but some also wondered if property owners were notified about problems if it was a rental home.
Council members Deb White and Steve Gehrtz thought property owners should be told about the problems prior to a fine being assessed.
White said many of the problems are concentrated around the two college campuses in the city where student rental homes are located.
However, Leshovsky said the council might be surprised how many of the problems are occurring at homeowner-occupied residences. Another problem, according to her written report, is bank owners of foreclosed properties.
City Manager Chris Volkers said they would look into the 80 violators to see if they were rental units or homeowner occupied to see if it was a problem where property owners need to be notified.
Council members Heidi Durand and Joel Paulsen wondered if it was just "extra paperwork" to have to notify property owners when the city had already put notices at problem homes and with such a small percentage of residences where problems weren't taken care of.
Paulsen said many renters have paid security deposits that could also be used by property owners to pay the charges and fines at problem homes.
In other business, governmental affairs director Lisa Bode and economic development program administrator Amy Thorpe said they had "good news" from the legislative session that ended late last month as Border City Enterprise Zone Program funding has been permanently included in the state's base budget.
Bode said Moorhead receives 70% of the $750,000 in funding the program will receive in the next year, or about $525,000 annually. The other four cities in the program are East Grand Forks, Breckenridge, Ortonville and Dilworth.
Thorpe said the program is in its 35th year and Moorhead has received about $16 million in funding in that time to make the cities more competitive in seeking businesses against states across the border.
Thorpe said about 85% of the funding has been going to reduce workers compensation insurance costs for businesses as Minnesota rates are much higher than South Dakota and North Dakota. About 130 businesses per year in Moorhead benefit from the workers comp program, Thorpe said.
Council member Deb White wondered if more couldn't be done with the program to help the much smaller businesses.
Thorpe said they were looking into expanding assistance programs now that they know the border cities are in the budget permanently.
On another legislative issue, Bode said legislators rejected bonding funding this year although she said there is some talk from Gov. Tim Walz and others to have a special session to address projects around the state.
Moorhead is seeking state bond funds for a proposed $52 million railroad underpass on 11th Street to complement the other underpass being done on southeast Main Avenue and for a community and aquatics center project.
Although the next scheduled legislative session is months away, the City Council was asked to pass resolutions supporting requests for the two major projects.
The railroad underpass, said the resolution, is needed as the city is bisected by five active railroad lines with increasing train volumes. It also states that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has ranked another city underpass as among its highest priority requests.
City Manager Chris Volkers said the new aquatics center is important as the city has grown by 14% since 2010 to 43,400 residents and the old city pool is aging and difficult and costly to maintain.
She said the center could also be used as a day care site, meeting space, exercise room and could include an outdoor splash pad. The center would be the No. 2 priority.