This north Fargo homeowner has already seen a $10,000 drop in his special assessment balance

FARGO -- In December, the special assessment bill for road repairs in front of Ivan Sauvageau's north Fargo home was $15,500, and that was after he negotiated a discount with city staff.
Ivan Savageau holds his sign Dec. 12, 2017, protesting a special assessment on his property at 2314 Broadway N. in Fargo. The city's reform of its specials policy has reduced his tax bill significantly, and he thanked city leaders for it Monday, June 18. Forum file photo

FARGO - In December, the special assessment bill for road repairs in front of Ivan Sauvageau's north Fargo home was $15,500, and that was after he negotiated a discount with city staff.

Today, his bill is about $4,300, according to city records, and he's expressing his appreciation for city leaders' willingness to reform their specials policy.

"I just want to thank you for listening to our concerns and appreciate it," Sauvageau told the City Commission at its meeting Monday night, June 18.

While Sauvageau has already seen a reduction in his special assessment bill and others are expected to save as well, Assistant City Engineer Brenda Derrig said staff still have 12 projects to recalculate and need to work with the Finance Department on a funding plan.

Consequently, staff asked city leaders to extend the deadline for recalculating those projects to July 2. The commission unanimously approved the request. The delay wouldn't affect the savings property owners could expect to enjoy under the new policy, according to city staff.

Commissioner John Strand acknowledged Sauvageau for taking the time to educate the commission on how its specials have affected homeowners.

The reforms came in May as a response to outrage from Sauvageau and other homeowners receiving big special assessment bills last year, a consequence of policy changes in 2015 that decreased the city's share of streets and sewers costs and increased it for individual property owners.

City leaders ended up reverting to the policy that was in place prior to the 2015 change.

Special assessments are a kind of property tax used to pay for street and sewer projects based on how much each property benefits from a project. The city pays for its share mostly with sales taxes.

City staff determined that specials for a total of 38 street and sewer projects, including the one by Sauvageau's house, would have to be recalculated under the new policy.

The best known change that came out of the May reforms was the city's cost-share for street and sewer projects increasing from 50-50 to 70-30, but Mayor Tim Mahoney said it's a bit more complicated than that because there are also caps on specials for certain kinds of projects.

"It is not as simple as plugging in a few new numbers into a program, but rather each project had to be meticulously dissected to ensure compliance with the new policy," Derrig said in a memo to commissioners. "This meant our Special Assessments Division had to start from scratch on each of the 38 projects."

City leaders have portrayed the May policy as a stop-gap measure while they discuss further reforms.