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Street and sewer plans still in progress; Affected roads in SW area to remain 50-feet wide, thanks to resident input

Perham is moving forward with plans for some major street, sewer and water improvements following two public hearings on Monday.

About 15 people attended the hearings to share their opinions, ask questions and voice concerns about two separate projects planned for part of the southwest neighborhood and downtown.

Assessment estimates released Monday reveal what affected property owners may end up paying for the improvements. Totals range from nearly $12,000 to just under $7,500 for those on the impacted southwest streets, and from $4,500 to $1,500 for impacted properties downtown.

Those in the southwest would have 15 years to pay off the assessments, while the downtown assessments would have a 10 year term.

The city would also contribute significant dollars to the projects, which total more than $1 million in the southwest neighborhood and about $240,000 downtown.

All those numbers are only estimates at this point. If all goes well with the engineer's project plans, in June another public hearing will be held to deal specifically with the assessments, with more finalized numbers presented then.

Affordability of the project was a concern for some at Monday's hearing.

Roman Walz, a southwest side property owner, said the assessments would be a hardship for him and his wife.

"It's kind of tough at our age, on our limited income, to get assessed something like this," he said. "It's really tough."

City staff said age- and income-based deferments would be available for the southwest assessments.

Downtown, where assessment amounts would differ depending on the number of parking spaces a property provides and how close to the project that property is (the closer the property, the higher the assessment), at least one person had concerns.

Insurance agent Scott Wallace told city councilors he would get minimum value from the planned improvements, while still being assessed for another drainage project done in 2008. He said he would prefer if the two assessments wouldn't overlap, and wondered if this project was already a sure thing.

City Manager Kelcey Klemm said there were several steps to go through before anything would be considered final. City engineers still need to put together final plans and specs, then seek bids, and then hold another public hearing (this time on the assessments) before awarding a bid. Once a bid is awarded, the project will officially be a go.

Improvements planned for the downtown area would affect the roadway and parking lot between the railroad tracks and Main Street businesses, from City Hall down to the Post Office. Work would primarily consist of fixing drainage problems and repaving the entire area, which is currently riddled with potholes.

On the southwest side of town, the work is more complex, involving some significant sewer, water, drainage and street improvements. The proposed project would impact 3rd Ave. SW between 2nd and 7th streets, and 6th St. SW between 3rd and 4th avenues.

Some residents who spoke at Monday's hearing were hopeful that these improvements would put an end to reoccurring water leakage into their yards and/or basements - often the result of improper drainage. Engineer Jade Berube said this project would indeed be addressing those issues, and engineers would be willing to meet one-on-one with homeowners in the affected area to gather more input.

Residents also made it clear that they are in favor of keeping their streets at their current 50-foot width. A second option, to narrow the width down to 44-feet, would have had a relatively minimal cost savings, but was not favored.

"I'm certainly in favor of 50-foot streets," said Gary Ebeling, who owns a home in the affected area.

He and a few others said the wider streets were safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially in the winter, when snow buildup makes the streets feel narrower and vehicles can more easily lose control.

Phil Holtan, pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church, also stated his case for 50-foot roads, at least for along the length of his church: "We have diagonal parking on 3rd Ave.," he said. "We would very much desire to keep it."

Residents also said they didn't think it made sense to narrow the roads for just their few impacted blocks while the rest of the streets in town remain wider. Perham's roads are traditionally 50-feet wide, though in newer developments the standard has been 44-feet.

There was slightly less agreement on the issue of sidewalks. Though most residents said they could do without as long as the street stayed at its current width to give pedestrians ample room, a couple others preferred sidewalks along one side of the street, or were indifferent.

In the end, city councilors agreed to move forward with plans for the project, keeping the streets at 50-feet wide and only accounting for any sidewalks that are already there. They will also seek a secondary, alternate estimate that includes the cost of adding a consistent sidewalk along the east side of the streets.

Both the southwest and downtown projects were outlined in the city's 2010 and 2011 Capital Improvement Plans, and were at that time scheduled to start in 2013.

If all goes well, construction on the southwest project will begin in June and should be complete by October. The downtown project would begin in September.