Preliminary special assessments for a summer street and utility improvement project were discussed during the first regular city council meeting at the Historic Holmes Theatre on Tuesday Jan. 12.

The project along Holmes Street, Willow Street and Frazee Street is expected to cost $7.5 million in an effort to repair street, sidewalk, water, storm water and sewage pipes. The special assessment cost to residents will be determined by how many services are in need of improvement along the route.

Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, said the cost for a resident who needs each of the improvements would be looking at an assessment between $15,000 for a 50-foot lot to $27,000 for a 100-foot lot along the construction route, but also said their are a lot of variables that go into the cost to residences.

"I need to emphasize that these are estimates, these are my estimates, they are not off of bid prices," said Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes. "The contractors determine the price of the project and we do our best to speculate on that, based on information we are seeing in the past and current."

Commercial properties should see higher assessments based on their property line footage along the construction route.

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Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, give the city council an update on future road improvement projects at the council's first regular meeting of 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, give the city council an update on future road improvement projects at the council's first regular meeting of 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"I caution you, if you haven't picked up on it by now, this project has lots of variables depending block, to block, to block," said Pratt. "So this is sort of assuming the worst-case scenario."

The assessments would be charged to residences and businesses on their property taxes over the next 20 years with an estimated 5% interest rate, he said.

Pratt also encouraged people with questions about their potential assessment for the project to contact his office for more specific answers based on where their property is.

The improvement project would've cost $380,000 more, but, Ron Zeman, alderman for Ward 1, raised a motion to remove the proposed roundabout at the McKinley Avenue and Frazee Street intersection from the project because the intersection was reconstructed only 10 years ago. Zeman's motion to remove the roundabout passed the council on a 5-4 vote.

"I'm not against roundabouts at all," said Zeman. "What I'm against is the waste of taxpayers money when we're looking at just doing a project 10 years ago, and we put the intersection in, and now, I'm sure it was on a 20-year pay plan, we haven't even got the thing paid off yet and we want to tear it up and put in a roundabout, I just don't think the taxpayer deserves that type of management by the City Council. I think we have to make every tax dollar count and if we make our decision, we've got to live by the decision."

Ron Zeman, alderman for ward 1, objects to a roundabout in downtown Detroit Lakes and the city council's first regular meeting of 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Ron Zeman, alderman for ward 1, objects to a roundabout in downtown Detroit Lakes and the city council's first regular meeting of 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Also, the street and utility project doesn't assess commercial properties along the Willow Street alleyway, running parallel to Washington Avenue, because alleys are not included, currently, in the city's special assessment policy. But, as Zeman points out, many people use the alleyway more than Washington Avenue for access to those businesses.

"One thing on assessments is, especially when your working in downtown areas, I think the alleyways should be assessed to the businesses because a lot of them are using the back door more than the front door," said Zeman. "And with freight deliveries, and everything else, that's wear and tear on these alleyways, and I don't think that it's fair that a residential person should be paying for an assessment on a business alleyway downtown that's being used for business."

The council also reviewed revised designs for the streetscape along North Shore Drive and South Washington Avenue intersection. The council moved that the plans be continued so a cost analysis could be presented to the council in the next couple of months.

The council meeting was also the first regular meeting for Wendy Spry, council member representing ward 2.

"I enjoy the challenge, I find it interesting" said Spry. "I also find the dedication of people wanting to work for their community kind of inspiring, without sounding too corny."

She also said attending council meeting for months before winning her seat in November gave her incredible insight into the process so she could hit the ground running.

"I really did that on purpose," she said. "I wanted to have some sense on what was going on with the city in a more specific nature versus just, kind of, an idea and I really wanted to understand process and watch how people interacted. It's a good group of people."