The Cloquet City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for the reconstruction of infrastructure beneath 14th Street following a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 20.

The majority of the cost of the $2.4 million project will be paid for by using sales tax funds, but about 27% — or about $656,000 — will be funded through assessments to properties along the corridor of 14th Street between Cloquet Avenue and Tall Pine Lane.

Over the course of the next two years, the county plans to rebuild the pavement, storm sewer and sidewalks along 14th Street, and the city plans to use the opportunity to replace the aging sanitary sewer and water main beneath the street. Current plans have construction going from Cloquet Avenue to Prospect Avenue in 2021 and from Prospect to Tall Pines Lane in 2022.

Assistant city engineer John Anderson said the infrastructure under that part of 14th Street is considered to be in “poor to failed condition,” which has led to sewer back-ups and water main breaks in recent years.

The council held a hearing during its Oct. 6 meeting, but tabled the vote to allow more time for the public to comment since the hearing was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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One business owner in the corridor — Bobby Atkins of Atkins-Northland Funeral Home — objected to being assessed at the same rate as homeowners in the area.

The preliminary assessment — an estimate that won’t be finalized until after construction is complete — on Atkins’ property totaled $22,803, according to the city’s presentation.

“Residents pay $7,100, yet as a business I will be assessed approximately $22,500,” Atkins wrote in an email to the council. “I think that is a tad bit excessive especially as a business, I am not using the infrastructure as a resident does. My water and sewer usage should be less as we are here usually only during the week from 9-5 and there are usually two or three people here. We take no showers, do no laundry, wash no dishes. So I should pay three times the amount even though I benefit the least? I can accept a base rate of $7,100 for the equivalent of a normal city lot size and then perhaps a significantly lesser rate per foot after that.”

The preliminary assessments on all properties along the corridor were equally assessed at approximately $98.27 per linear foot along 14th Street, according to the Oct. 6 presentation. Typical affected residential properties are 72 feet long and the preliminary assessment for a lot that size is $7,076.

There are five other non-single family residential lots along the route and each was assessed at the same rate. Atkins-Northland Funeral Home, with 232 feet of property on 14th Street, was among the larger assessments, but two were larger. The Garfield School, Cloquet Public Schools’ central administration building, was assessed $26,537 with 302 feet of property on 14th Street, and the Aspen Arms apartment building was assessed $36,067 with 367 feet of property.

None of the assessments are final, and Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson said the city will take a closer look at the non-residential assessments over the next two years to ensure they are appropriately assessed.

“Over the next two years we will be ordering an appraisal of all non-residential properties to see if the assessments are reasonable and meet state statutes on assessments,” Peterson said in an email. “This may change how we look at the rate we are charging, or it may prove that what we already have is acceptable.”

What’s more, the city typically overestimates preliminary assessments, which lessens the impact on property owners when they receive the final assessments after projects are complete.

Final assessments on two recent projects in Cloquet were nearly 10% lower than the preliminary estimate, according to the Oct. 6 presentation. The 2016 Third Street project initially estimated assessments to be $78.81 per frontage foot and the final assessment was $71.24. Similarly, final assessments for the 2018 Arch Street project were $8 less per frontage foot than the preliminary estimate of $75.32.