MOUNT VERNON — An amended ordinance that would allow tax liens for delinquent assessment payments on stormwater improvements ended up dominating Mount Vernon City Council’s Monday meeting, which followed a public hearing on another piece of controversial legislation concerning how to pay for repairs to the Knox Cattleman’s Dam.
The public hearing, called to get community input on a proposed $300,000 draw from the city’s reserve balance fund for repairs to the Knox Cattleman’s Dam, was attended by about 100 people. Though city dollars would be used initially, the city would recoup the money through an assessment of property owners in the area of the dam.
That ordinance went through a second reading Monday night. But the amended delinquent assessment payment ordinance, which was scheduled for a second reading Monday, has been tabled until Sept. 23.
The amended assessment ordinance would allow the city to attach delinquent payments for stormwater repairs be attached to the assessed payer’s property taxes.
At the end of the public hearing, which was held at 6 p.m. at the Station Break, a resident read from the amended delinquent assessment ordinance. Prior to that, several residents in the area of Yauger Road, where the Cattleman’s Dam is located, voiced their concerns regarding the cash draw and the assessment.
Many of the residents who attended the hearing live in the Landings Subdivision and other subdivisions in the area of the dam.
The residents mostly supported the idea of spreading the payments for repairs out over the entire city, rather than just assessing those who live in the area of the dam. Several blamed the city for the current predicament; several more said they had no idea that they were liable for the Cattleman’s Dam when they bought their homes. In fact, one resident said, the Landings had obtained a legal opinion that they did not have any interest in the dam.
Jeff Harris, who lives in The Landings and is president of the subdivision’s phase 7 – 8 home owner’s association, said the subdivision has retained an attorney representing them on the issue of the dam.
At the hearing, City Councilmember Chris Menapace stepped away from the council table to speak as a resident of the Landings. Menapace, as well as councilmembers Sam Barone and Nancy Vail and Council President Bruce Hawkins were previously told by City Law Director Rob Broeren they were barred from speaking about the cattleman’s dam due to their having a conflict of interest (Hawkins, Menapace and Vail all either live in the area of the Landings or own property there; Barone is on the Knox Community Hospital board, and the hospital could also be assessed). However, Menapace said he had been notified by Broeren less than a half hour before the meeting that he could speak about the matter as a resident, though not a councilmember.
Menapace said he wanted to know how the cash draw for repairs can be carried out by only four voting members of council. A draw from the reserve fund requires a two-thirds vote of council, he said, and there are seven members of council. Barone, Menapace and Vail are voting members, taking the number down to four; Hawkins, as council president, does not have a vote.
The city will further accept comment, either on written forms or online, through Aug. 19. The comments and questions will be posted online, and the city will provide answers to the concerns raised, Broeren said.
At least two residents attending the public hearing seemed to believe the assessment amendment and the request for the $300,000 draw are directly connected. However, at council’s regular legislative meeting, they were told that is not the case.
Following the hour-long public hearing, council reconvened at city hall at 7:30 p.m.
At the meeting, Menapace moved that the vote on the amended assessment ordinance be tabled indefinitely. Menapace said he feels it is the wrong time to address the ordinance with all the concerns the public has with the Cattleman’s Dam and the discussions of implementing a stormwater utility. Menapace said those issues need “to be put to bed” before council votes on the amended assessment ordinance.
Instead, council struck a compromise, tabling the ordinance until Sept. 23.
But during the council meeting, City Engineer Brian Ball said the impetus behind the amended assessment ordinance is not the Cattleman’s Dam project, but the city’s inability, under the current ordinance, to collect on a fine in an unrelated project under the current ordinance. Ball said a developer in violation of the city’s stormwater ordinance was fined $20,000, but the city cannot collect under the current ordinance.
The result of the public hearing and the council meeting has been to schedule two committee meetings for Sept. 23. One will address the stormwater utility for 45 minutes; the other, for 30 minutes, to get answers on the assessment ordinance. Menapace scheduled both of the meetings, and said he will not be prepared to present the stormwater utility for a vote.
Menapace said he wants the city to provide him with an EPA letter from the project with the $20,000 fine by the Sept. 23 meeting, as well as how the current ordinance has failed to protect the city’s interests. Ball said both can be provided.
Council further expressed a desire to hold yet another public hearing on the $300,000 draw, after the comments from Monday’s public hearing have been answered. Menapace said he would like to speak at that hearing, and Barone said he may speak then as well.
Barone expressed concern that the stormwater utility will never get to a vote. Council has heard from a committee that researched the utility, as well as consultants hired to assist with the issue. The utility would collect a proposed $6 per month from residential customers and a fee from commercial users, with the money going toward stormwater infrastructure.
“My concern about stretching it out is are we ever going to get to the stormwater utility in a productive way?” Barone said.
Mayor Richard Mavis cautioned council about trying to find answers that please everyone, and said they probably won’t be able to find answers where “all of the people are satisfied.”
Vail addressed Mavis about a letter sent out recently to property owners regarding the Cattleman’s Dam. In the letter, Vail said, Mavis wrote that property owners cannot build at the Landings, and that the property owners had failed to do anything about the dam. Vail said the letter had a threatening tone.