Sunday, March 17, 2019

Oshkosh homeowners on Hazel Street will have to pay $500,000 in special assessments after council vote

Source: Google Street View

Part of Hazel Street will be rebuilt, and adjacent property owners will pay for it, starting later this year.

By Joseph Schulz

The Oshkosh Common Council approved special assessments on March 12 of more than half a million dollars for road work on Hazel Street, from Washington Avenue to Irving Avenue.

The half-mile stretch where construction will take place will cost 37 property owners $512,000 in special assessment fees, according to city engineering estimates.

The assessments will pay for paving, sidewalks, water lines, stormwater drains and sanitary sewers. The construction will close Hazel Street for an unspecified amount of time later this year.

Special assessments are fees charged to property owners when the city renovates streets or sidewalks. Citizens can pay the entire cost up front, or they can get on a payment plan for up to 15 years at 6 percent interest.

Many of the assessments on Hazel Street are for more than $10,000, and one homeowner was hit with a fee of more than $17,000.

In some “really unique circumstances,” the special assessment “is literally a significant amount of what their mortgage is,” said Council Member Debra Allison-Aasby, who was part of the unanimous approval vote.

The only citizen who spoke on the issue was Travis Brand, who lives in the 400 block of Hazel.

“How [do] you think these parcels are getting value from $8,000 to $17,000 assessed against them?” Brand asked. “How [are] these families … going to see that benefit when they have to pay this?”

City officials argue that road conditions in a neighborhood have a direct effect on property values. 

“If we have a home that’s in an area that has roadways that are deteriorated…, it makes it much more difficult for that individual to sell that home or even have it assessed at a level where it provides them an opportunity to realize any kind of improvement on their initial investment,” said John Fitzpatrick, assistant city manager.

Even looks can be deceiving. “The street could be fairly decent, but underneath it’s rubble,” said Mayor Steve Cummings.

“The infrastructure underneath, which could be the laterals for the sewer and stormwater, in some cases we’ve had those collapse, and we go in there, and we find out they’re clay from the 1880s and we have to replace the street--it can’t wait,” Cumming said. 

Deputy Mayor Lori Palmeri said the council is looking at replacing special assessments with a transportation utility fee.

“That would potentially replace the need for those special assessments for street reconstruction,” Palmeri said. “The owner of the homes would still have to pay for utilities, but it would reduce some of that sticker shock. Stay tuned for when that comes to council.”

But the transition from one approach to the other could be a problem.

“If we find something and we implement it, I believe it’s going to be really hard for those that have paid for their special assessment or are in terms to have that paid off,” said Allison-Aasby. “Likely there wouldn’t be anything that would grandfather those property owners in.”

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