Voters to decide fate of front footage assessment
As a result of a recently circulated petition by Wessington Springs resident Elton Kaus, a special election is scheduled for December 3, 2019 to vote on whether or not a city resolution remains in effect. The resolution, which is voted on annually by the city council and has been in place since 2014, establishes a special maintenance fee for the purposes of repairing or maintaining public improvements.
According to the South Dakota Municipal League Guide to Special Assessments, special assessments are a financing mechanism that allow payment for improvements by those who benefit, or for specific items, rather than general taxation.
History of the special maintenance fee
In place for most residents of Wessington Springs since 2014, the maintenance fee was established to supplement the city’s street repair budget. The maintenance fee, or front footage assessment, originally began at $.65 per frontage foot upon the lots fronting and abutting the maintained street. The resolution was put in place at the September 2014 city council meeting and the assessment was payable to the city in 2015. The fee appears as a line item on the first half tax bill sent by Jerauld County.
The resolution must be passed by the council annually and in 2018, the city council voted to increase the special maintenance fee to $.75 per foot.
At the March 2019 city council meeting, county employees met with the city council about variations within the front footage calculations. This prompted the formation of a task force led by City Attorney Gary Blue, tasked with providing oversight on the assessment.
During his research, Blue discovered that several properties along the perimeter of city limits were not being charged the special maintenance fee but were abutting streets maintained by the city. He also discovered that, while non-profit organizations and churches were previously not held accountable to the special maintenance fee, the law states that if any property within the city limits is assessed, all properties must be.
“The law states that if a property is in city limits and maintained by the city, then it is subject to the assessment,” Blue explained. “According to current laws, residents eligible for a property tax freeze are not exempt from this fee, as well as non-profits.”