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Birchmont Drive Assessments: Township decision expected Monday

The decision to appeal the assessments in the Birchmont Drive road project was a "risk," according to two attorneys.

"It's quite possible that (the appellants) could be assessed more than that (first assessment)," said Jason J. Kuboushek, with Iverson Reuvers out of Bloomington, Minn., who is representing Northern Township in the matter.

Kuboushek met with the Northern Town Board in a closed session Wednesday afternoon following by an open session to which city staff members, including City Attorney Al Felix, and Bemidji C Council members were invited.

Fifty-four property owners who had been imposed assessments in 2008 for the Birchmont Drive reconstruction project appealed their assessments in

The assessment to properties that received all three improvements was $20,315, according to court documents filed in the case. Those that received road and sewer improvements were assessed $13,990. Assessments did vary, however, based on the number of vacant lots and other factors.

Heather Sweetland, assistant chief judge for District 6 in St. Louis County, issued summary judgment Sept. 1 in which she said the assessments were invalid. She ruled in the judgment that the township's conclusion that the properties would increase in value was "without foundation" and ordered a re-assessment.

Kuboushek said the ruling threw out 80 percent of the plaintiffs' claims.

There was not enough documentation supporting the township's claim that the assessment amounts met the increase in value that the property owners would receive following the construction project, Kuboushek said.

The judgment left the township with three choices: appeal, offer a settlement or reassess the properties.

Northern Town Board is expected to vote during its regular meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday on which option to pursue.

The Birchmont Drive project was complicated by the relationship between Northern Township and the city of Bemidji.

Because the Birchmont Drive project area is within the ring of properties to be annexed in 2010, the city was considered the governmental agency in charge of awarding bids - but Northern Township was responsible for approving the project and assessments.

If the township does decide to reassess, and it is determined that there is a shortfall between the assessment totals and project cost, Kuboushek said Northern Township would like the city to consider helping the township close that gap.

"We want the city to remain open to talking about that," he said. "There is some frustration on the part of the township regarding the record."

While there is a possibility that an appraisal would show that the assessments were too high based on received valued, it also could show that the assessments were too low also, the attorneys said.

"There is some risk there (for the appellants)," Felix said.

Felix and Kuboushek also said the added costs of appraisals and additional staff time could be added into the project cost and assessed back on the property owners, if an appraisal would show that much benefit to property owners.

Craig Gray, the Bemidji city engineer/public works director, also noted that the cost of the project increased by about $100,000 since the time the assessments were imposed.

"This bill is going to get paid," said Northern Township supervisor Mike Kelly. "The process is just going to take some time."