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It’s time for state to revise assessment law

There is a lot of infrastructure work going on in Glencoe and the surrounding area. Construction of Glencoe’s central storm sewer project gets under way Monday, equipment is moving into Brownton for that city’s major street and utility project, and the city of Stewart will soon be launching another street and utility project.
It is all needed; it is also all very expensive. And, unfortunately, the state is involved in how cities pay for these projects.
Glencoe City Council member Allen Robeck often refers to the “evil” Minnesota Statute 429, which dictates that cities must assess at least 20 percent project costs to property owners in the project area.
The statute wasn’t evil when it was implemented — the goal was to make sure that those who benefit the most from a project contribute the most toward its costs, the theory being that those improvements will increase the value of abutting properties.
There also is another statute on the books — that the amount assessed to a property cannot exceed the increase in property value that comes with improvements.
Sometimes, those two statutes bump heads, and there’s a lengthy appeal process to come to a compromise.
Cities, counties, townships, schools are all facing the cost of deferred maintenance that resulted when the economy tanked in 2008-09. The years that followed were rife with foreclosures on property, a dive in housing values and a spike in unemployment. It was difficult to find the money to pay for projects.
While the economy is slowly recovering, the cost to fix, repair, improve or replace infrastructure is much higher than it was 10 years ago. And higher costs mean higher assessments. There are people facing assessment costs in the 10s of thousands of dollars for improvements.
And housing values are still deflated. It is difficult to prove that a $10,000 assessment will result in a $10,000 increase in value on a house that is currently valued at $60,000.
But, according to state statute, cities are required by law to assess 20 percent of project costs.
That theory may have worked well back in the 1970s, but it doesn’t work in today’s world.
It’s time for the state to stop telling cities how they need to fund their projects. After all, local governments know what will work best for their constituents.
It’s time to repeal Statute 429 and let cities come up with assessment policies and funding options that will work best for their communities, taking into account the local economy and local needs.