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Property owners ready to fight bill for boardwalk

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published July 1, 2007


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Seven property owners abutting the newly rebuilt boardwalk at John's Pass Village will have to pay for 25 percent of the construction costs - a prospect that has some threatening to sue the city.

Initially, the city wanted to assess half the nearly $700, 000 cost, but finally decided to charge 25 percent, or about $170, 000 instead.

That decision came at Tuesday's commission meeting after a lengthy and sometimes heated debate pitting residents objecting to using taxpayer money against business owners objecting to paying for a public boardwalk.

"I hope you will assess at least the 50 percent, " said resident Debbie Weinstein, who stressed that the property owners "are direct benefiters" of the boardwalk improvements.

"It's not fair. I only own 40 feet of property and that is $20, 000, " said Guy Critelli, objecting to the proposed 50 percent assessment.

Patricia Hubbard, whose family's business is the largest property owner along the boardwalk, faced the largest assessment - $127, 000.

Her attorney has sent the city a letter implying that the assessment may be challenged in court.

"The assessment is not legal or equitable, " he wrote, citing a 30-year-old agreement in which the city agreed to be responsible for maintaining the boardwalk.

An attorney for another property owner, Dag Bros. Inc., was even blunter.

"To proceed with such assessment would invite litigation that my client does not desire, but is willing to pursue if forced to in order to protect its property rights and to enforce the city's compliance with its agreement to maintain the boardwalk, " he wrote.

Commission members were admittedly uncomfortable with the proposed assessment.

"This whole thing stinks, " said Commissioner Steve Kochick, adding that it "boggles my mind" that the city and the property owners did not have an agreement on how to pay for the boardwalk repairs before work was started.

"I really do not like the business owners and residents at odds with each other. It doesn't help the community at all. This is going to be a difficult decision. Somebody is going to walk out of here very angry tonight, " Kochick said.

Commissioner Nancy Oakley said the city's failure to get an early agreement on payment of construction costs was "water under the bridge." She called for the costs to be fairly split between the businesses and residents.

Mayor Charles Parker, who opposed the proposed assessment, said all property owners in John's Pass Village should help pay for the project.

Commissioner John Wolbert said the 50 percent assessment "is a little heavy" and put an "awful burden" on the business owners.

Then, at the urging of Commissioner Arnold Alloway, the commission voted to cut the assessment in half. Only Parker voted no.

Since the meeting, the city has sent letters to all seven property owners telling them that if they pay their assessment fees within 30 days, there would be no interest charge. For those that don't pay immediately, they will be billed in three annual installments (plus interest) on their property tax bills.

The balance of the project's cost will be paid from parking meter revenues, just recently raised from 50 cents to $1 an hour.

[Last modified June 30, 2007, 23:35:39]


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