Improvement district assessments OK'd despite protests

KINGMAN - After nearly two hours of discussion and explanations, the Kingman City Council on Monday approved final assessments for the Kingman Airport Tract/Banks Airport Addition improvement district, overruling the objections of two residents who claimed the assessments had been flawed.

The improvement district, which covers various portions of neighborhoods between Airway Avenue and Kino Avenue from Lomita Street to Roosevelt Street, was originally approved by Council in 2007, with the contract awarded to Surface Contracting. Surface has since put in new water and sewer lines and completed a number of street improvements, including adding curbs, gutters and sidewalks, as well as paving, repaving and realigning various sections of the district.

According to staff, the final cost of the work to be assessed to improvement district residents is just over $4.4 million, nearly $1 million below the engineer's estimate used in the original 2007 resolution. All the same, however, two of the affected property owners decried the "extreme costs" being levied on them, with one woman calling the assessment a "bait and switch con job."

The first objection came from Gary Lawson of homebuilder GV Lawson, Inc., who claimed his properties were being assessed at nearly $400 per foot of frontage, despite the assessment itself coming in well below the original estimate. Compared to the costs of previous improvements he had done, Lawson claimed the improvement district costs were extreme, given what his properties had actually gotten out of it.

"I voted yes to having this done," he said of the district. "But if I'd had known (the full cost), I'd probably have done it

myself. I'm not happy with the bills that are coming in, and I'm definitely not happy with the (7.25 percent) interest rate."

A second resident, Sandra Samoska, read off an acid-laced missive she had mailed to Council the month before claiming that the city had intentionally and repeatedly misled them into believing the full cost of their assessment had been well below the actual amount. In her letter, Samoska claimed that the original cost of the assessment had been estimated in 2004 at no more than $3,150 since her home was listed as having sewer, water and a paved street, but no curb, gutter or sidewalk.

In ensuing years, however, Samoska said the costs kept jumping after the city informed her that her sewer and water pipes had to be replaced and her street, Roosevelt, had to be realigned. She added that the sewer pipe never was replaced, though it was still being assessed to her, as was the street improvement she claimed the city never cited in the original vote.

"When the work was actually ready to start in the fall of 2009, the price had gone up to $7,892.81," she read. "Now, after completion, the price is $8,602.52. Add the interest and it's $14,419.02. To make that even worse, we are now told that if we wish to make an early pay-off we must pay 10 years' interest.

"Even the Mafia doesn't work that way," she concluded.

In a response letter dated June 14, City Manager Jack Kramer explained to Samoska that her property had only been assessed for street improvements, at a cost of $105.28 per foot of frontage. The water line replacement had been paid for by the city and was not included in the assessment, while the sewer line was not assessed to anyone on Roosevelt Street, since it hadn't been replaced.

Kramer added that the $3,150 figure quoted to her in 2004 was only an estimate at the time and did not take into consideration the immense increases in the cost of construction materials following the mid-decade new housing boom. The $14,419.02 she is expected to pay, he said, was the total amount through 2024 and included all of her interest payments.

During Monday's meeting, several of Kramer's explanations were reiterated by city engineer Mike Prior, Improvement District Assessment Engineer J.R. Pooler and the city's legal counsel for the case, Scott Ruby of Gust Rosenfeld, who maintained that the city had done everything appropriately and legally. Ruby explained that the district residents had still voted to approve the district, which at the time he said had been presented as "the worst case scenario," costing the full engineer's estimate at a 12 percent interest rate. He added that the city could not have legally proceeded with the district had the awarded bid exceeded the total the residents had voted on.

Councilman Dick Anderson asked whether or not the district residents knew that Roosevelt Street was slated to be repaved while they still had a chance to protest the original improvement district resolution. Pooler said the determination had already been made that Roosevelt would have to be repaved and that the plans had been available at the City Clerk's office for anyone to examine prior to the end of the protest period in April 2007. But he added that it would have been up to the individual property owners to do the research, and that the city had no legal requirement to tell them.

Mayor John Salem opined that much of the residents' frustration might have been avoided if they could have been given individual estimates on the costs of their assessments before the city went through with it. Pooler indicated that residents were given individual estimates, but it could only be done after a low bid had been received.

Councilwoman Janet Watson argued that the real problem was not the cost of the improvement district but rather the unfortunate economic circumstances which befell the city between the district's approval and now. Had the economy not tanked the way it had, she said, the current unrest would likely not have unfolded quite the way it did.