To streamline the process for funding local neighborhood improvements such as street paving, the city of Soldotna is considering a repeal of its 20-year-old law and replacing it with a new chapter on Special Assessment Districts.
Special Assessment Districts or SADs are created for financing a public improvement that primarily benefits property owners within a limited area rather than benefiting the entire community.
Typically the cost of a street improvement is split 50-50 between the city and the property owners. The half owed by property owners is divided between each property, usually on a per-lot basis.
Soldotna's municipal code chapter covering SADs was adopted in 1986, and has become outdated, according to Leila Kimbrell, who until recently served as special projects assistant to City Manager Tom Boedeker.
In a memo to the Soldotna City Council earlier this month, Kimbrell said the current procedures "are cumbersome, confusing to administer, and in some instances ... unnecessarily repetitive."
An ordinance amending the city code was introduced last week at the city council meeting and set for a public hearing at the next meeting, Nov. 14.
Because of the amount of administrative time associated with processing a petition for an SAD, one of the proposed changes requires a non-refundable filing fee of $500. The fee is intended to cover the cost of publishing notices of a planned SAD and to ensure a stronger level of commitment on the part of property owners filing the petition, according to Kimbrell.
The proposal also doubles to six months the period before people may remove their signatures from a petition, giving city administration more time to process the petition and prepare an improvement plan for review.
In attempting to clarify the roles of various city administrators, the proposal states the improvement plan should be filed with the city clerk once completed and the clerk shall present the plan to the city council for action.
Another change proposes that no SAD may be created if parcels that would bear 10 percent or more of the estimated cost of the project are delinquent in the payment of real property taxes.
An SAD also would not be allowed where unimproved parcels represent 40 percent or more of the total assessed value of the real property in the proposed assessment district.
In the event the lowest bidder on a project is at least 10 percent higher than the originally estimated project cost, the city must notify affected property owners and give them an opportunity to object to the new cost.
The current chapter on SADs exempts property owners older than 65 from special water assessments and special sewer assessments, an exemption previously allowed by state law. According to Kimbrell, the state repealed its law in 1987.
Because the exemption is no longer allowed by the state, the city is proposing the exemption be removed from the city code as well.
While the municipal code would be amended, the city is standardizing petition forms and internal procedures to enhance the process.
If enacted, the new SAD procedures would go into effect immediately.
In the meantime, the council placed a moratorium on SAD petitions in order to prevent any from coming in under the outdated rules. The moratorium will be in effect no longer than 45 days following its approval last week.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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