City of Preston residents were in attendance in larger numbers at the Tuesday, Sept. 3, Preston City Council meeting due to a public hearing scheduled to discuss the 2014 Street and Utility Improvement Project.

Brett Grabau, a project engineer for Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., addressed those gathered letting them know they would be able to share comments and concerns on the improvements the city is planning. Finances and the city's plan to assess the improvements to property owners would also be addressed.

According to Grabau, roughly one-third of Preston will be undergoing either street or utility work and, in most cases, both. Two areas of work were highlighted. The "Fire Hall" area will include streets west of St. Paul Street: River, Main, Houston, Franklin, Preston and Washington streets, including the one way street heading north to Chatfield Street. The "South Hill" area includes Judy Lane and Matthew and Russell Streets off of Ridge Road.

Utility improvements for the Fire Hall area include new eight-inch PVC piping with recast manhole covers for sanitary sewer. Water main pipes will be replaced with six-inch pipes as well. Grabau reported that the storm sewer was mostly in good shape. Trunk storm sewer mains will not be replaced, but catch basins will be.

Utility improvements in the South Hill include the water main replacement in all the roads, replacement of the one-inch water services from the trunk main out to the right of way line, and installation of storm sewer and PVC drain tile. Grabau said the improvements would also correct the backfill material used when the water main was first laid and which has been causing many of the recent water main breaks the past few years.

In addressing the street improvements, Grabau noted wherever utilities would be replaced, the road would undergo a complete reconstruct. The Fire Hall area will see 80 percent of the streets reconstructed to 32-feet wide. Grabau said this would allow residents to continue to park the way they are currently and still allow two-lane traffic. Pedestrian curb ramps will be re-done to be ADA compliant.

Grabau showed maps of each improvement area and briefly explained what would be occurring in each one. He noted that each resident would be able to acquire a map and ask him specifically how the projects would affect their residence.

The South Hill area will have the roadway surfaces replaced. Curb and gutter will be replaced where it is needed.

Starting to explain what the total 2014 project will cost, Grabau pointed out how large of an area was being improved and noted the cost would be substantial. Cost estimates are roughly $3.3 million. Two million dollars of that cost comes from street improvements. Approximately $790,000 from that will be assessed to the benefitting property owners. The general tax base will cover the rest, roughly $1.2 million.

The costs for the water main improvements will be paid entirely out of the city utilities funds. Storm sewer utilities will be paid out of a storm sewer fund. Public utilities will take care of sanitary sewer trunk main costs. Utility will take care of 100 percent of water service cost and 20 percent of sanitary sewer service cost. The rest will be assessed. Total assessments will be approximately $855,000 with the city covering the rest.

The city assesses sanitary sewer improvements at 80 percent or $1,119 per sanitary service. Street improvements are set at 40 percent or roughly $62 per linear foot.

Grabau said these numbers were not set in stone, but were the best estimates according to feasibility reports and assessment policy. The assessment is about 26.9 percent the total project cost.

A property with 100 feet of assessable street frontage and sanitary sewer would be around $7,400. Frontage feet can be assessed at a minimum of 60 feet and a maximum of 150 feet.

Residents who live on corner lots will be first assessed according to their address street. Then, 20 percent of the length of the second street the property abuts will be assessed.

The proposed project schedule would have the start date at May 19 with substantial completion by Oct. 13. Final completion would be finished by June 19, 2015.

Comments and questions

Grabau addressed many questions from those residents assembled.

Will there be issues with streets settling where utilities are replaced?

There could, which is why contractors usually come back the next year and check to see if there are any problems before laying down the final inch and a half of pavement.

Will our driveways be replaced?

Driveways will be replaced only if the curb in front needs to be replaced.

Is the project going to be completed in stages?

Yes, though the plans stating when parts of the project will be completed have not been finalized. There will be phasing for utility and street repairs. Grabau noted that temporary water supply would still be coming from the city, but not below ground.

Will the project affect where sump pumps can be located?

Sump pumps are not allowed to go directly into the sanitary sewer. Grabau said the city would need to find out where they will be able to go.

Will I be able to access my home?

As part of the contract, residents will have access to their homes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Grabau said it will be the intent of workers on the streets to close up the streets by 7 p.m. Residents will also be warned when workers plan on digging in front of their homes.

Are they going to replace utilities in my home?

The city will replace anything within the right of way and will not go into private property.

Is there a city backflow prevention plan for sanitary sewer?

The city is not able to have backflow prevention on private property, but property owners may still have their own backflow prevention system.

Will trees that are removed be replaced?

The property owner will not have to pay for removal. Any tree removed will be replaced based on a city decision.

Are commercial assessment rates different than residential?

Grabau said there would be nothing different for commercial rates.

Other concerns fielded by Grabau included the following issues.

• A man raised a question about weight capacity of the streets when they would be completed. Grabau said he couldn't be sure, but it would probably be between 7 to 10 ton weight capacity. That capacity would be able to withstand most traffic, but would show greater signs of wear if semi trailers regularly drove on it. The man then expressed his concern, stating the city authorized the use of the Washington Street and Main Street corner for semi trailer testing. "It's destroying that entire area," he stated. Mayor Kurt Reicks cleared up the issue by sharing that the CDL testing had not taken place in Preston for two years and those trucks should be in Rochester or Winona for testing.

• Another man asked if there had been consideration toward making Winona Street a dead-end. Grabau said there hadn't, but that there had been thought about making it a two-way. "I'm not sure what the benefits of that would be. We can think about it," he said. Councilmember Robert Maust asked what the size of the street was. Grabau said it was 24-feet-wide running north and 18- to 19-feet-wide running west. The street project will increase the width to 21 feet.

• A resident on Preston Street said reducing the street width to 32 feet would cut back on parking space for people attending St. Columban's Catholic Church. The man who asked the question also said it would affect parking at the Jailhouse Inn. He would like the street width to remain at its current width of 44 feet. Grabau said the issue had been brought up before and through the design process a solution would be figured out to accommodate the number of people parked by and near the church. "We are aware of your concern," he stated.

• When asked about how long the assessments would be in effect, Grabau said people would have an option to pay assessments in full before they are applied to county taxes or they can be put on one's taxes and spread out over 10 years. City administrator Joe Hoffman said the council would also be able to consider a 15-year financing option. One man voiced a compliment to city for what he considered an "assessment policy that is very fair." Another man asked about further information on the assessment options. Grabau said after the project is completed, the city will send out final figures to property owners which will say what they are assessed. The residents can then attend an assessment hearing, which is temporarily slated for Nov. 3, 2014. When asked about the bond rates, Hoffman said the city was anticipating a rate of three to three-and-one-half percent.

Funding the project

Hoffmann addressed how the city would be funding the project stating, "I think we were all surprised that the street and utility improvements cost as much as they do."

The street portion of the bond will be $1.35 million at an annual payback of $111,000. That will result in a 17 percent property tax increase, which Hoffman said will be broken up over several years. A home valued at $75,000 would see an increase of about $6 per month. A home valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $21 per month.

The city's utility portion is about $1.1 million, which is approximately $91,000 per year for payback. Water and sewer rate increases are expected to be close to 20 percent. An average home would see an increase in user fees of about $7.12 per month.

Hoffman said Preston currently has the lowest cost of living in regard to property tax and utility rates. The property tax increases would be among the highest in the county, but Hoffman showed that when added to utility increases, the total cost of living was still competitive with neighboring communities.

With that, the mayor closed the public hearing.