Court rules in favor of residents

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Property owners on Lake Chapeau to see reduced street assessments

Assessments for last year’s Lake Chapeau Drive reconstruction project were reduced earlier this month after more than half a dozen property owners in the neighborhood appealed their assessments to Freeborn County District Court.

In their appeal filed in December, Matt and Mary Samudio, Dean and Carolyn Wangen, Jerome and Janet Hickman, S Family LLC, Milron Development LLC, HKO Family, Hill’s Gardens Inc. and Hill’s LLC alleged the assessed were not “properly considered, calculated and assessed by the city of Albert Lea, as required by Minnesota statutes.”

In an order issued Sept. 8 after an agreement between the city and the landowners was reached, Judge Karen Duncan ordered original assessments for the properties that originally averaged about $9,400 be removed and new assessments be:

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$2,000 for Matt and Mary Samudio

$1,250 for Dean and Carolyn Wangen

$1,750 for Jerome and Janet Hickman

$3,750 for S Family LLC

$3,250 for HKO Family LLC

$1,750 for Milron Development LLC

$2,250 for Hill’s Gardens Inc.

$1,500 for Hill’s LLC

The Freeborn County Auditor/Treasurer’s Office was ordered to refund each petitioner the full amount of the assessment and interest paid this year. Assessments are expected to be paid over nine years at a 3.42-percent interest rate.

Originally, the highest assessment for the project was more than $13,200. The lowest assessment was about $2,200.

Hill’s Gardens Vice President Tony Hill said his assessment amounts were reduced from original amounts that were each more than $13,000.

“I feel that their assessment policy is flawed,” Hill said of the city.

The city’s assessment policy for properties such as Hill’s are “predatory,” he said, adding that other people might not have the time or money to challenge city assessments.

“Justice was served,” he said.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams on Tuesday said he considered original assessments for the project an “anomaly.” Duncan’s ruling was made partially because appraisals showed landowners would receive relatively low direct benefit from the project.

Citizens have the right to appeal assessments, said Adams, who added the new assessment policy will shift the tax burden for such projects to the broader Albert Lea community, resulting in larger tax increases, especially for properties with higher values.

The Albert Lea City Council reduced the cap for front footage of residential properties from 300 feet to 150 feet late last month.

“This policy change is intended to eliminate the large lots that have much larger assessments than a typical assessment,” Adams said in a report last month.

In filing the appeal, the landowners said the city’s assessments violated the constitutions of the state of Minnesota and the United States. They stated landowners are not receiving special benefit from the project, as required by law, and they “have no legal or improved access to (Lake Chapeau Drive),” and some petitioners never use the road for purposes of their properties.

The project included bituminous reclamation, new bituminous reclamation, new bituminous pavement, shouldering, installing a centerline culvert for the main entrance road to City Arena and Lake Chapeau residential subdivisions, and drainage work, which included the replacement of a centerline culvert near a stormwater pond.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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