Council delays vote on Franklin, Prior, Third and Western assessments

The City Council has delayed a vote on the revised assessments for Franklin Ave., Prior Ave., Third Ave., and Western Ave by a week to August 28th.

Simon Taghioff from Fair Streets St. Paul and our attorney Jack Hoeschler both spoke at the public hearing (video).

Public Hearing: Mill & Overlay Unfair and Illegal

Simon: “let’s find a fair way, together, to pay for the streets we all use.”

Referencing the Mayor’s own words in his budget remarks last week, as well as the Street Conditions Report from the City’s own Public Works Department, Simon highlighted the inadequacy of the current Mill & Overlay policy as a means to pay for our streets:

It would cost $46.5m annually just to maintain the city’s streets at their current, crumbling level, and $51m to bring them up to where they should be. Mayor Carter’s budget allocates just $20m.

If approved today, these Mill & Overlay assessments would raise just $220,000 in revenue over 10 years. Against a $29m annual shortfall. That’s a drop in the bucket. It does nothing to fix our streets. All it does is leave people with bills for thousands of dollars to pay for wear and tear they didn’t cause.

Hoeschler: City “Naked” Without Written Legal Opinion

Mr. Hoeschler drew attention to the precedent established in First Baptist, recently affirmed as applicable to the current Street Maintenance Program at the District Court level in a recent opinion from Judge Millenacker:

The fact of the matter is the Minn. Supreme Court and now the District Court…has repeated that the key question for the City to look at is “What is the purpose of this expenditure?”

If the purpose of this charge is to regulate behavior on the part of the residents, then there could be a legitimate fee associated with that. But if the purpose of this charge is to raise revenue, and I think that’s what it is…then it can only be done by regular taxes, or as a special assessment if you can show that there is a special benefit involved.

When CM Prince asked the City Attorney, Ms. Tierney, to respond, her only reply was that the city was proceeding under its fee power, an argument that has been rejected repeatedly by the courts.

Council Members Not Briefed on Millenacker Judgment

In light of the remarks from Mr. Hoeschler, CMs Prince and Thao moved to lay over the matter for an additional week to August 28th, in order to give them a chance to get a better understanding of the points raised and to read Judge Millenacker’s recent opinion. It’s clear that even after an additional 2 months to reconsider this matter, the Council is not in possession of the information they need to make an informed decision.

From the beginning, our preferred option has been to work with the City Council and City Attorney to reach a productive, fair outcome for all. We will be submitting a short explainer to the City Council to help them get up to speed and put them in a position to ask probative questions of the City Attorney.

As Mr. Hoeschler stated – if the City Council wants to proceed, the bare minimum requirement is for the City Attorney to submit a reasoned written legal opinion to explain why they are continuing to rely upon a legal theory which the courts have clearly and repeatedly struck down.

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