As the year draws to a close, some Columbus residents are concerned with a pending street project outlined for 2018.
Residents along East School Street addressed the city council during its Committee of the Whole meeting Dec. 19 at city hall. Neighbors along that street are worried a special assessment for the project will carry a heavy tax burden next year.
Stephanie Wolff, who owns a house at 137 E. School Street, said the city hasn’t made her aware of how much an assessment would cost. The project is slated to begin in late spring and run through late summer.
“I have an issue with the fact that at this point in time, with it being this close to the start of a project, we have no idea of what percentage we’re going to be paying and if we’re paying,” Wolff said. “We don’t know how much that dollar amount is going to affect us.”
Wolff told the committee she is also concerned trees removed for the project will not be replaced.
“That’s an issue for me, especially seeing James Street stripped of all of her trees (after recent work),” Wolff said. “We are a Tree City and I don’t know if we can even hold onto that calling card.”
Wolff believes the city should use funds collected from previous tax bills to pay for the renovation. While she admits the street is very old and in need of repairs, Wolff wants other residents to chip in as well.
“All of our taxes should be equally spread out so everybody has to pay for it,” Wolff said “There shouldn’t be a special assessment to pay for any street projects. Our street hasn’t been remodeled in 60 years. So all of our tax dollars for the past 60 years had to have gone somewhere and they should, at least in part, be paying for almost the entire street project.”
Brenda Hobbs, also a resident along East School Street, spoke to the committee. Since Hobbs’ property is on a corner lot, she’s concerned about paying several thousands of dollars in special assessment taxes.
“I’ve heard it could be at least $6,000, which is a lot,” Hobbs said. “I know that street hasn’t been repaired in a really long time and it’s time for this community to fix what needs to be fixed and that’s why we pay taxes; it should come out of our taxes.”
City Engineer Jason Lietha said a third public informational meeting will be held in early January to provide an update. Design work could be completed by the end of January and a public hearing will be held before the city approves it.
“All the property owners along that stretch would have the opportunity to comment at that public hearing and then we could make changes if we saw too,” said Mayor Michael Thom. “I live on South Water Street so this work will affect me too.”
Thom said the East School/Water Street area was chosen for renovations because it is a very old part of the city with many lead water laterals that should be replaced. Columbus obtained a grant to remove lead laterals but must use the funds within three years.
During the meeting, Thom referenced a list of special assessments levied during the last street project.
“For curb and gutter, most cities do ask for partial (tax) payment or full payment for that because it’s part of storm sewer and drainage issues,” Thom said. “The driveway aprons are clearly something that’s going to benefit the property owner so I think there was consensus last time that it would be 100 percent paid by the property owner.”
Lietha said the city should know special assessment costs soon. Council member Andy Traxler said the project hasn’t been approved yet and there is room for the city to “decrease the amount” on assessments.
“It’s something we can hammer out over the next few months,” Traxler said.
According to Thom, during the last city street project, special assessments above a specific cost could be paid back through several years.
“Above a few thousand dollars I think can be spread out over 10 years,” Thom said. “We’re trying to take steps in the right direction with this.”
During the city council meeting prior to Committee of the Whole, City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden said city hall is currently collecting property tax bills.
City hall offices will be closed Monday (Christmas Day), along with Dec. 26, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2.