Road project cost less than initial estimate
The road and sidewalk construction project in the Valley Centre area of Driggs has worked its ponderous way through government for the last four years but was finally completed last fall, and now the bill has to be divvied up.
Valley Centre Drive and Moraine Court were in bad shape. They were built as private roads during the economic boom of the early 2000s and were never maintained before being annexed by the City of Driggs a little over a decade ago. As the roads deteriorated, property owners tried to make fixes, and the city plowed the roads even though they were private.
“[Former retail store] King’s was patching potholes at their own expense,” Mayor Hyrum Johnson recalled. “Homeowners would get truckloads of road patch free from the city. That situation was inequitable, it was some people doing a lot for the benefit of many.”
Because the property owners were never able to organize an association that would pay to maintain the roads, the city proposed that it would accept ownership and maintain the roads if they were rebuilt to current city standards. In 2018 the city council created a Valley Centre local improvement district, wherein every property owner affected by road improvements would pay a proportional amount of the project’s cost. The rationale behind an LID is that it’s cheaper for a neighborhood to pool its resources than for individual property owners to pony up and repair or rebuild infrastructure to meet city standards, and cities often have more bidding power than a group of homeowners.
Project engineer Keller Associates gave the city a preliminary estimate of $1.3 million. When the city put the project out to bid in March of last year, four contractors responded and all submitted bids below $900,000. The council selected CM Owen for the project.
“I was flabbergasted when the bids came in so far below the estimate. My jaw dropped,” the mayor said.
The contractor wrapped up construction in October, and in January the city council was tasked with deciding how to allocate the bill, whether by road frontage or property area. They concluded that property area, which was the original method presented to the property owners, was preferred.
The total bill including engineering and construction comes to $1 million divided among over 160 lots. Many condo and townhouse owners will pay between $1,700 and $4,000, while larger lot owners are being assessed for tens of thousands of dollars.
The city is bearing a high cost because its park and well house make up almost four acres. The council committed to paying for certain additional amenities viewed as beneficial to the public, including sidewalks that are six feet wide rather than five. The total city-paid portion is $129,000 including the non-LID amenities and impact fee credits. (Owners that had paid impact fees to the city will receive a credit for those fees toward their assessment, and future development will also receive a credit.) The city also plans to fund some more landscaping elements after the spring thaw.
Only one property owner owes more. The Housing Company, a statewide nonprofit organization that holds almost nine acres on Honeysuckle Loop and manages 56 subsidized housing units, was assessed for $173,000.
Each property owner will receive an assessment in the mail and can attend a public hearing on March 17 if they wish to contest the assessment on the basis of equitability.
“We’re confident we followed the process, and more than complied with noticing the decisions,” Johnson said. The city has discussed and debated the LID and construction at over a dozen public meetings reaching back to 2016.
Owners will have the option of paying the bill up front or financing it over 15 years. The city is soliciting bond proposals for the project so the interest rate has not yet been finalized.
The council has considered the possibility of using LIDs as a tool for infrastructure projects more frequently in the future, including sewer connection upgrades.
“Valley Centre was a relatively large project, but there are also a lot of little LID projects that could be done,” Johnson said, using his own sewer pipes as an example. “I shouldn’t expect the whole city tax base to pay for my service line.”