I have spent 28 years of my life in public service. I believe that I know a little bit about the process of infrastructure improvements, the methods used to pay for them, and what constitutes a less-than-desirable approach to assessing homeowners for projects which have little oversight and no communication prior to publishing assessments in the paper and informing homeowners that their assessments are fair for the benefits received.
With limited space to get into the finite details, I am speaking about a storm drain improvement project in West Fargo which resulted in a $1.3 million dollar project growing to a $2.5 million dollar project with no public hearings and no city commission discussion as to why. All matters regarding this project were consent agenda items and approved unanimously without any regard to the property owners who would ultimately be paying for the project and cost overruns. The end result left most property owners in the local benefited areas with assessments of $5,000, $6,000, $10,000, and even some up to $44,000 to pay for storm water drainage on property that has never had a problem draining water through the current ditch system.
Something is wrong when a city commission is so ambivalent toward it’s own constituency that it deems communication on such matters as being not necessary. Something is wrong when a city commission allows a project to nearly double in cost without one iota of conversation about it. Something is wrong when a city commission listens to a city engineer who conveys to authorities the wrong direction of water flows in the ditch which has serviced our area for over 25 years. Something is wrong with a city commission who listens to the same engineer who fails to inform city commissioners that the ditch with no culvert was, in fact, blocked by the very project for which assessments are being levied. In other words, no water can get to the pump station for which assessments are being levied. When asked by a commissioner if this was true, the same engineer misinformed the commission about the depth of the ditch and the fact that water could go over a driveway approach and continue on its way to the pump station. The true fact is that the driveway approach with no culvert is equal in elevation to Sheyenne Street and could never go over the approach unless the entire Sheyenne Street was flooding as well.
Something is wrong with a city commission that chastises the public for coming to a public hearing on the assessments (not a public hearing on the project prior to moving forward) and calling the city engineer a liar. A review of the videotaped meeting will reveal no such assertion by anyone who provided opposing testimony to their assessments. Something is wrong with a city commission who have two commissioners state that another subdivision should have been assessed more, yet will not increase their assessment in order to more fairly distribute assessments within the district. Something is wrong with a city commission who listens to the city attorney advise the mayor to recuse himself from voting and any commentary because he lives in the assessment district, yet gives clemency to a city commissioner to participate in discussion and voting even though they also live in the same district.
You see, there are no boundaries for the ridiculous nature that can come from special assessments; no matter the city, no matter the staff, no matter the elected officials who purport to care. As always, many people have to suffer the consequences of a poor process and the arrogance of many before the process gets fixed. It’s time to fix it!