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Fargo task force reviews specials

Fargo homeowners are one step closer to paying about 20 percent less in special assessment costs. A city-appointed Special Assessment Task Force Monday voted unanimously for 11 cost-reduction recommendations that will be passed on to city commiss...

Fargo homeowners are one step closer to paying about 20 percent less in special assessment costs.

A city-appointed Special Assessment Task Force Monday voted unanimously for 11 cost-reduction recommendations that will be passed on to city commissioners for approval May 12.

Collectively, the recommendations would reduce special assessments -- costs for improvement projects such as sidewalks, streets and tree planting -- by about $4,000 per lot, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

However, with several of the 11 recommendations, homeowners still would pay for the improvement to their property -- just not in the form of a special assessment.

For example, front sidewalks would have to be installed by the homebuilder with costs transferred to the house purchase price. Also, entry medians and other aesthetic boulevard treatments would be financed by the developer and included in the lot purchase price.

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As for boulevard trees on local streets, the cost would be absorbed by the homeowner or builder. Boulevard trees on arterial streets, or major through streets, would be paid for by taxpayers through the city's sales tax fund.

The city also would adjust several of its standards as a way of lowering assessment costs, providing homeowners a more direct cost savings.

For example, pavement width and thickness standards for local streets would be reduced, which could save between $700 and $1,400 per lot. Fire hydrants also would be spaced farther apart for a $160-per-lot savings.

In addition, the city has proposed to reduce city engineering and administrative fees for special assessment projects from 20 percent to 17 percent for new construction.

The city's bond interest markup would be lowered from 1½ percent, which is the full amount allowed by state law, to 1 percent. The interest savings eventually goes into the city's general fund.

City Finance Director Kent Costin said the interest markup is considered a safety measure for the city, meant to cover delinquencies.

Task force member and local developer Steve Stoner questioned Monday if this was the best method.

"We understand the need for rainy days," he said. "But if the fund were allowed to grow, we wouldn't have to keep adding to it."

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Several issues still will need some work before an actual policy is adopted, Zavoral said. Despite this, all of the recommendations gained task force approval.

Stoner said he sees approval of the recommendation cost reductions as a major step toward city improvements.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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