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Low bids may fend off 1st Ave. improvement legal challenge

Property owners on First Avenue in Perham may have breathed a collective sigh of relief when bids for an extensive improvement project came in considerably lower than expected.

A highly competitive bidding environment translated into lower construction costs, and as a result, assessments that are 20 percent below original estimates.

A group of property owners have considered challenging the city on the proposed assessments. The Peloquin and Minge law firm sent letters soliciting interest in a challenge.

Whether or not the legal challenge will proceed is uncertain at this stage. But assessments are now almost $3,000 lower for a 100-foot lot than originally projected.

As assessment hearing is set for the regular council meeting May 10, at 5:15 p.m.

At $9,708, the assessment is lower than most surrounding cities, according to a report compiled by Ulteig Engineering, the city's engineering firm. Here are average assessments for a 100-foot lot, according to the report:

-Frazee, $10,700

-New York Mills, $14,675

-Park Rapids, $13,800

Total project costs were estimated at $1.09 million, but the bid came in at $915,670 Work will include sewer, water, storm water and street improvements.

Existing street, curb, water and sewer facilities are more than 60 years old. Several deficiencies were listed in the engineering report:

-Watermains are undersized and there is an inadequate number of fire hydrants.

-Manholes are made of old brick, and could collapse.

-Street is in disrepair; and overlay doesn't make sense when the utilities are outdated.

-There have been numerous sewage blockage problems.

First Avenue property owners are paying 40 percent of the project cost. The remaining 60 percent is being covered by all of the city's taxpayers.

At the May 10 hearing, the city council will decide whether to adopt the assessment roll and award a bid-or they may elect to discontinue the project if there is substantial opposition from property owners.

"A cost share in the form of special assessments has been expected on these types of projects in the past and going into the future," wrote Kelcey Klemm, city manager. "The inability to use special assessments as a revenue source to pay for reconstruction projects would have a devastating effect on the city's ability to maintain public infrastructure."