Members of the Howard Special Assessment Committee listen to a presentation Wednesday, Aug. 8, at village hall. From left, trustees Ray Suennen, and Craig McAllister, and Village President Burt McIntyre. Not pictured is Trustee Adam Lemorande, who is also on the committee. Ben Rodgers Photo
By Ben Rodgers
HOWARD – A committee learned of nearly $2.4 million sitting uncollected for special assessment payments on Wednesday Aug. 8.
The funds consist of the balance, which stretches back decades, owed by property owners who own undeveloped land that was previously charged for special assessments.
Under the current village policy, those who own vacant land do not have to pay for special assessments until the land is split, sold or developed.
There is no timetable to pay the money back, the debt is transferable with the land for family members and it is interest free for the property owner.
When the land is split, sold or developed, the owner is required to pay the cost for the assessments that was billed at the time, not the current cost in today’s dollars.
“With the inflation on construction costs going up pretty fast, it’s a significant savings to them,” said Paul Evert, village administrator.
The $2.4 million doesn’t affect the budget process, other than being funds the village can’t use for upcoming projects.
“That money is not coming back in, it’s just sitting there,” said Geoff Farr, director of public works. “The village can’t utilize it and spend the money.”
The first time the committee met, it learned about the special assessment process in Howard and various specifics the village has.
At the Aug. 8 meeting, the committee learned how Howard compares to other communities in the region.
Farr and Mike Kaster, director of engineering, compared Howard to Green Bay, De Pere, Suamico, Bellevue, Ledgeview, Allouez, Appleton and Ashwaubenon.
“We probably went through at least 70, maybe 100, pages of material,” Farr said. “We had to read a lot of information and interpret what that means. Not to say any of this is perfect, but we have a general sense of what people are doing.”
When it comes to corner credits for assessments, Farr said no other municipality offers 60 percent on each side up to 150 feet, which is what Howard offers.
What Howard does for the third- and fourth-side credit for double-fronted homes is comparable to elsewhere, Farr said.
Howard is one of two communities that offer credits for large non-dividable lots.
For the minimum assessment on smaller lots, Howard doesn’t have a specific policy, but only two of the eight communities researched did.
For financing for special assessments, Howard is the most generous for property owners, according to the information presented.
On developed lots, property owners have up to 20 years to pay back assessments at .5 percent over the village’s borrowing rate, with all payments being due upon sale of the property.
“Other communities are shorter at 10 and 5 (years),” Farr said. “Generally, a trigger requires some sort of balance plus all fees and interest immediately due upon sale or transfer, so we are similar in that regard.”
The group also discussed special assessments for utility deferment, laterals, sanitary sewer, streets, curb repairs, driveway aprons and sidewalks.
Other communities also handle special assessment cases on a case-by-case basis.
“Some communities are already taking this on, because they said it was a case-by-case review of the policies,” said Burt McIntyre, village president. “But if we’re going to do that, and start looking case-by-case, then we have a problem with the overall policy.”
The committee was formed in April in response to George Hoell, who was notified by the village that he owed more than $20,000 in special assessments for property next to a development for sanitary sewer, storm sewer, water main and roadway.
“It’s neat to look at what everybody else is doing, but at the same time we need to think about what’s going to be the most fair and attractive for residents here,” said Craig McAllister, trustee.
The next meeting, at 5:30 p.m. Sept 5, at village hall, will go into more detail about any potential changes to policy regarding corner lot assessments, the deferment period and improvements made down the road from property owners.
“I think overall our current ordinance appears to be more fair to the resident than other communities, but I don’t think there aren’t a few things that need to be improved,” said Ray Suennen, trustee.