New East Grand Forks street rebuild could be cheaper than before for nearby residents

·4 min read

Oct. 27—A more ambitious street project in East Grand Forks could, counterintuitively, mean a smaller bill for residents there.

An updated feasibility study presented Tuesday to East Grand Forks City Council members indicates that replacing sewer lines, water lines, and the street itself along intersecting segments of 20th Street Northwest and Fifth Avenue Northwest could reduce the amount of "special assessments" nearby property owners would be asked to pay from a combined $2.1 million to either $1.52 million or $1.42 million, depending on whether residents there want the street rebuilt with concrete or asphalt.

"Ultimately, it's going to come from a petition from the neighbors," said Mayor Steve Gander.

City staff are working to schedule a meeting among neighbors there, who would need to formally ask the city to rebuild the roadway.

The street itself is decades old and needs to be replaced, but a city policy calls for reconstruction projects to be paid for strictly by nearby property owners, who were reluctant to pay for all $2.1 million of the project on their own. Part of that total would have paid for new storm sewer pipes underneath the roadway as well, according to a 2019 study put together by city engineers.

There are two differences now that account for the lower cost to residents along both streets, according to interviews with city staff and officials.

The first: East Grand Forks Water & Light could replace a watermain underneath the roadway, which means the utility, rather than nearby homeowners, could pay to have the sidewalks along both roads replaced as part of the street rebuild.

The second difference: a set of council-approved increases to resident's monthly sewer fees has freed up money to replace the storm sewers, which means residents there wouldn't be on the hook for that sort of work, either. Gander said that was part of the intent behind the fee increases, even if it doesn't amount to an out-and-out policy change. (The resolutions approving the rate increases make no mention of changes to the city assessment policy.)

"The additional two and two was to be more proactive," Gander said, referring to a pair of $2 increases to those fees that were part of the $9 overall increase. "To roll that into a major street reconstruction if the infrastructure was at end of life."

The total cost of the new, larger-scale project is an estimated $2.98 million or $2.68 million, depending on the type of road surface the city installs, according to city documents.

Of that total, $433,000 would pay to replace the storm sewers underneath 20th and Fifth; $107,000 would replace sanitary sewer lines, manholes and so on; and $554,000 would pay to replace the watermain, fire hydrants and individual service lines from the main to residents' curbs.

Replacing the road with concrete would cost $1.88 million and replacing it with asphalt would cost $1.55 million, according to city estimates. Those figures would mean $1.52 million or $1.42 million worth of assessments to property owners, respectively — costs that are at least $600,000 to $700,000 cheaper than the ones they would have collectively paid under the prior proposal.

Legislative recap, land use and a new ice resurfacer

In related news, council members:

Got a quick update from a representative of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities on the 2021 legislative session. Of particular concern to East Grand Forks officials: lawmakers in St. Paul didn't make cuts to the state's "local government aid" program, which supplements the city's annual budget. Legislators instead OK'd a one-time, $5.2 million supplement to the program for 2022.

Were updated on the city's 2050 Land Use Plan, which, as the name suggests, outlines how the city wants to use land within its borders for the next 30 years, which can inform city planning and development. The plan is updated every five years. It's set to be formally adopted next month.

Did not object to Parks and Rec Superintendent Reid Huttunen's request to buy a new ice resurfacing machine for next year's hockey season. The city has budgeted $152,000 for the purchase, but the model put forth by Huttunen would cost $121,000. The city wouldn't receive its brand-new machine for about nine months.

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