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Portage resident objects to alley project assessment

May 13, 2018 GMT

During a recent stroll, Edward Elzy snapped a few photos of Portage alleys that he thinks are in more need of repair than the alley abutting his West Pleasant Street property.

He brought some of those photos, enlarged and displayed on cardboard tri-fold easels, to Thursday’s public hearing before the Portage Common Council about the city’s proposed alley reconstruction plan for this year.

Elzy is one of dozens of property owners who would be assessed for the project, which entails improving two alleys with deteriorated pavement and paving one gravel alley.

Public Works Director Aaron Jahncke said assessments, expected to total $42,525, pay about half the cost of alley projects, with the city borrowing to pay the remaining cost.

Elzy was the only citizen to speak at the public hearing, and he spoke in opposition to including Alley 37 – between West Conant and West Pleasant streets, from Wisconsin Street to Clark Street – in this year’s reconstruction schedule.

It’s not, he said, that he and his neighbors have a problem with the idea of paying their fair share for alley improvements. But this alley carries an unusual amount of traffic, because a U.S. Postal Service deposit box is located on it. For that reason, Elzy said, the U.S. Postal Service, and not the owners of homes bordering the alley, should pay for most of the repair cost.

“We feel we should handle no more than 10 percent of the cost,” he said, “since we account for just 10 percent of the traffic.”

The final assessment estimates, approved May 1 by the Common Council’s Municipal Services and Utilities Committee, show that the Postal Service is among the property owners to be assessed. The Postal Service owns two tracts of land along the alley, and the combined assessment comes to almost $6,044.

Government entities, Jahncke noted, are not exempt from city assessments, which vary according to how much of the property abuts the area designated for work.

Elzy’s assessment, according to city documents, comes to about $871.

During an informational meeting before Thursday’s hearing, Jahncke said city officials try to fix four alleys every year, if there’s enough money available. This year, just three are slated for work. In addition to Alley 37, the others are:

Alley 7 between East Marion and East Franklin streets, from Jefferson Street to Adams Street.Alley 68, between Washington and Brook streets, from Thompson Street to Townsend Streets. This is a gravel alley that is getting paved.

Jahncke noted during the informational meeting the number of alleys needing repair far exceeds the city’s financial ability to fix them.

“I could throw a dart at any alley on the map, and find an alley that needs to be fixed,” he said.

To help choose which alleys are repaired in a given year, Jahncke said, city officials consider how many complaints have been received about the condition of a particular alley – something that Elzy said should not factor into the decision.

Common Council member Doug Klapper, chairman of the Municipal Services and Utilities Committee, said the Common Council would not vote on the alley project at Thursday’s meeting, but would decide at a future meeting.