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East Grand Forks residents skeptical of price tag for neighborhood street rebuild

Several East Grand Forks residents spoke against the costs they'd have to bear to rebuild the streets in their neighborhood. Several would be charged tens of thousands of dollars.

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East Grand Forks City Hall

A smaller pricetag for major roadworks in an East Grand Forks neighborhood didn’t get a warmer reception from residents.

Speakers at an East Grand Forks City Council meeting on Tuesday decried the special assessments they’d be asked to pay to replace the roadways at the intersection of 20th Street Northwest and Fifth Street Northwest, which have languished there for years. A few had questions about fee calculations and other procedural elements, some wondered about cost-saving measures such as rebuilding the roadway to be 34 feet wide rather than 41, and others accused the contractor that built the road of doing a poor job.

Council members ultimately voted 4-3 to have city staff prepare plans and specifications for the project, a move that would produce plans from which construction companies could do the work, according to city staff. Voting in favor were council members Tim Johnson, Clarence Vetter, Marc DeMers and Council President Mark Olstad. Voting against were Brian Larson, Dale Helms and Tim Riopelle.

With plans in hand, city officials could then, via another vote, agree to solicit bids for the project that would produce a more concrete sense of its cost than engineers’ estimates.

“I want to see what these costs come back as,” Olstad said after Tuesday’s decision. “That’s why I voted to move forward.”


Related: East Grand Forks to take another run at fixing rundown roadway

Special assessments are charges cities can impose on residents for work that directly improves their property, and an East Grand Forks policy requires work like the street rebuild proposed at 20th and Fifth to be paid entirely via those assessments. Two years ago, that meant a $2.15 million plan to rebuild those streets and replace some of the storm sewers underneath them, but residents didn’t want to shoulder the entirety of that cost.

This go-round, city leaders were able to make the proposed project theoretically cheaper for residents there with money generated by a set of increases to citywide utility bills and by looping in East Grand Forks Water & Light, which might replace a watermain underneath the roadway and, thus, chip in to have 20th and Fifth rebuilt afterward. The cost of the overall project is greater than before – an estimated $2.98 million if residents and the city opt for a concrete street instead of an asphalt one – but would rely less on special assessments, which would total $1.52 million in total.

That figure is $630,000 smaller than the one from 2019, but, even spread over 20 years, it would still mean a considerable cost to neighborhood residents, some of whom would be charged tens of thousands of dollars apiece. More than one resident wondered if federal stimulus money or a historic state budget surplus could help foot some of the bill.

“I know the Water & Light said that they're going to help by picking up a lot of that tab, doing the sidewalks and doing some of that stuff and, yes, that does help. But, in the long run, it’s still way too much,” Mike Soli, a resident of the neighborhood, told council members. “Right now, if we had to pay that, I think most of us are going to be walking bent over for quite some time because it’s going to be painful.”


5% levy increase, budget postponed

In related news, council members:

  • Voted 5-2 to approve a property tax levy for 2022 that’s 5% higher than the $5.71 million levy budgeted for 2021 . City officials initially considered a levy that’s 8% higher than this year’s . Voting against were Dale Helms and Clarence Vetter.

  • Agreed unanimously to postpone setting the city’s 2022 budget until, presumably, later in the month, when city staff can present a line-item one rather than the broad-stroke version they brought to Tuesday’s council meeting.

  • Were chastised by Mohamed Mohamed, the head of the East Grand Forks Islamic Center, for what he considered a tepid city and council response to an East Grand Forks woman who told council members earlier this year that she wasn’t helped by police when she tried to report an attempted assault. Mohamed said council members then did not “validate” the woman and claimed that he did not receive any response when he tried to email council members about his misgivings.

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