After receiving a petition to pave the alleyway behind City Hall, the Le Center City Council offered to partially fund the project, but property owners on the alley may need to pay more out of their own pockets than they hoped.
Last month, the homeowners with properties on the 100 block between Park and Lexington Avenue requested that the alleyway behind their homes be paved. The alleyway is where homeowners on the street park and frequently drive their cars, but the gravel path has become a daily inconvenience, especially in poor weather. Petitioners complained the gravel stirs up dirt when it’s dry, cakes their vehicles with mud when it’s wet and damages their cars with potholes year-round.
“I’d love to have it done, because, from the dust in the summer, it gets ripped up,” said Ben McGrath a property owner on the alleyway. “And if you drive that thing in the middle of the summer it’s bumpy and it rains and it’s just potholes and your car looks like hell from people driving up and down it all day.”
McGrath made the case that it was in the city’s interest to have the alleyway paved since it’s location behind city hall makes it a frequent passageway for city vehicles. The alley is also frequently used by residents outside the neighborhood, said McGrath.
“The last thing I wanted is you guys to expect I’m going to walk in here, this thing’s going to be signed and the city is going to pay for it,” McGrath told the council. “That is exactly the opposite of what I wanted. What I wanted to let you guys know is everyone is in favor of getting that thing paved. I know there is a crazy amount of activity that goes up and down that alley. It’s not by any means just the residents that live there, but from a lot of the community.”
Estimates from the city engineer placed the total cost of paving the alley at approximately $18,000 including a $3,350 engineering fee. Mayor Josh Fredrickson offered to have the city pay the engineering fee as long as the residents on the alley were willing to cover the rest of the costs. Split six ways, the costs roughly translate to $2,500 per property owner.
Fredrickson said he wanted to keep the city’s involvement restricted to covering the engineering fee to avoid creating a precedent that would have other alley owners sending requests to the city.
“It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with every other budding property owner of every other alley in the city,” Fredrickson told McGrath. “So if we set a precedent by doing it this way, not necessarily a policy, but a precedent that in the event of another block two years from now it says we want our alley done that would be the process that we follow when we move forward.”
City Attorney Jason Moran backed the mayor’s reasoning and suggested setting up a consent assessment, where the property owners sign a petition agreeing to pay off the rest of the costs. This would avoid the certification and collection process of a typical assessment.
“I think it does set a bad precedent by throwing additional money above and beyond the engineering because if you do go above you’ll have other residents coming in wanting their alley to be paved,” said Moran.
But McGrath said he hoped the city would chip in more to fund the pavement when considering the people outside the neighborhood that use it. He added that it would be tough to ask everyone in the neighborhood to pay out $2,500 toward the project.
“I didn’t ever expect the city to write a check and have it done, but I would love to see a little more than ‘We’re going to pay Bolton & Menk their assessment fee,’” said McGrath.
“It’s not the city, it’s all the taxpayers in the city that pay for it,” Fredrickson responded. “So for the handful that say use it on top of the ones that live there, there’s probably triple that that don’t use it at all that are saying, why am I paying for that to be done?”
“I can’t [say that] for the roads because the city has a responsibility for maintenance and upkeep of the roads, not to pave alleyways that aren’t designed to be paved so there is a difference there,” Fredrickson continued.
Councilor Christian Harmeyer added that the individual cost to the city for the engineering fee was greater than the individual cost to any of the other property owners. McGrath told the council that he would talk with the other property owners to see if they would be willing to sign on to the agreement.