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Council moves on original town urbanization project

“Old Tiffin” to get a facelift

TIFFIN– Tiffin City Council member Jim Bartels remembers early discussions regarding the modernization of “Old Tiffin”– the four-by-three block area south of Highway 6, home to College, Grant and Summeryhays streets.
“Ten to 15 years ago, all we did was talk about it,” said Bartels. “We didn’t even have a plan.”
The council has come a long way since then.
At a May 2 meeting, members informally approved an estimated $3 million improvement project for the original part of town. All in all, the urbanization will affect nearly 100 property owners, who will receive paved driveways and approaches, new or improved sidewalks, and filled-in ditches as part of storm water updates.
“I think some will just be thankful for a sidewalk,” Bartels said. “We’ve ignored this part here a long time.”
According to the current Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), a total $1.8 million was originally budgeted for the urbanization over a three-year period, starting this fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, $1 million– including $200,000 for engineering– was allocated in the FY 18 budget approved at a March 7 meeting and is set to cover phase one of the project.
“If we do three phases at $1 million each, that should be easily handled,” said Mayor Steve Berner. He added two $1.5 million phases might be achieved depending on how much money the city can secure through municipal bonding later this year.
While an official construction timeline is still up in the air, council members did agree that asphalt should be used for roadway improvements– versus concrete– to both save money and make it more convenient for affected residents.
Jay Anderson, senior construction design specialist for Hart Frederick Consultants, estimated concrete to cost upwards of $4.2 million, before engineering, compared to just $2.6 million for asphalt.
“With the concrete option, homeowners would be out of their house for four to five days for paving, and another five days for their driveway and sidewalk,” said Anderson. Although residents will still receive concrete drives and sidewalks, asphalting the road will give them a place to park while the concrete cures, Anderson said.
He also presented a sealcoat option to the council, but noted maintenance would be required every year.
“I think if you’re going to put up with this for a several year period, we’re going to want something that won’t be messed with again for a few years,” said council member Mike Ryan.
As far as long-term maintenance, Anderson said concrete would likely need attention after 20 years, while asphalt could last at least 25 years on side roads.
However, council member Peggy Upton voiced concerns about how residents of the old part of town might feel getting asphalt roads.
“Do you think they’re going to feel like they’re not getting the same treatment as the residents on the north side?” she asked.
“I think they might be appreciative that the council weighed all the options and took action that said this looks like the best balance between cost, quality and convenience for the homeowners,” Ryan answered.
Lower cost should be especially important, as those homeowners will be expected to cover a fraction of the improvements to their properties out of their own pockets.
According to a preliminary assessment schedule presented at a May 16 work session, the average cost for each resident could be about $5,100 on the low end or $10,000 on the high end– depending on what percentage of assessed values the council chooses to charge.
“A person has the option of paying it off right away or it can be put on their taxes and paid off over 10 years,” explained City Administrator Doug Boldt.
He added that once the council decides upon a percentage and interest rate, there would be several notifications to homeowners, as well as public hearings.
“It’s quite a process,” he noted.
Again, Upton wondered aloud about the homeowners’ perceptions of the project.
“What are we going to say to folks who say, ‘I’m just fine with the way it is now; Leave me out of it?’” she asked.
“We can’t do that,” said Bartels.
“ADA says we can’t,” Ryan concurred.
While residents may not like the idea of paying for infrastructure updates now, years to decades after they’ve owned their homes, council members discussed the importance of updating walkways to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“I’ve heard this council before have discussions in the sense that we’re very interested in having a walkable community, a bikeable community, a pedestrian- and bike-friendly community. And this is part of that,” said Ryan. “It’s for the greater good.”
And, Berner stressed, the justifications for charging the residents are many.
“Property owners are responsible for their sidewalk no matter what, anytime it gets replaced,” said Berner. “It’s their sidewalk. They have to pay for it.”
“And they’re going to get a driveway approach poured, too. Most properties in town don’t have a paved approach,” he added.
Several council members also pointed out the cost of sidewalks, curb and gutter are included in the lot price of a new house, and that all homeowners who have them have paid for them.
“Typically those that purchase a lot and build their house, they’re paying for that 100 percent. That cost is divided amongst those lots,” noted Boldt. The city is allowed to charge 25 percent at most, he added.
“And the fact is, you put curb and gutter and a sidewalk in front of a house, it’ll increase the value of the house,” council member Al Havens added.
Ryan, who lives in the original part of town, said he thinks more people want the improvements than don’t want them.
“And to have that type of infrastructure improvement, I would expect to have some skin in the game,” he added.
While no vote was taken, the council agreed 10 percent of the assessed property value was a reasonable request.
“I think we’ve helped the old part of town immensely with Ireland,” said Bartels. And this will just be another step in that direction if they see it that way.”
Berner said the project will likely got out for bid in November.