Two homeowners claim special assessments came as a surprise

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Two Hillsboro residents expressed dismay at a June 5 public hearing about the way they say they were informed about special assessment taxes on property they recently purchased.


The public hearing was part of the Hillsboro City Council’s agenda to receive input about Ordinance No. 1045, which would finalize the special assessments for Hillsboro’s two newest housing developments, Willow Glen and Prairie Pointe.


Ken Peterson and Robert Cabine, both of whom had purchased homes in Willow Glen earlier this year, indicated they were “shocked” when they recently received a letter from the city notifying them of the additional tax obligation on their respective properties.


Cabine did not elaborate on his situation, but said his response was the much the same as Peterson’s.


Peterson said the special assessment on his home at 213 Willow Lane totaled $13,300. He said no one-neither the city, builder, nor real estate agent-had informed him of that amount before he bought the home.


“I was shocked by this, the unknown of this,” he said. “We would not have bought this property if we had known.”


Peterson said when he initially read the letter, he thought he would have to pay the entire amount immediately. He had since discovered that the amount could be in monthly installments.


Peterson said he wasn’t accusing anyone of doing anything improper, but wondered whether the city didn’t have an obligation to communicate the assessments more clearly, especially to first-time home buyers like himself.


“I see how the city benefits a great deal by not keeping me informed,” he said. “This letter did nothing to help me, an ignorant buyer.”


Mike Padgett, council president, said Hillsboro, like many other cities, chooses to pass on the cost of installing streets and sewer to the homeowner under a separate arrangement with the home buyer.


Word about the special assessments traditionally comes through the seller, real estate agent or lender during the purchasing process, he said.


“As a lender myself, I am very surprised that this came as a surprise to you,” said Padgett, who is a banker.


Jerry Rayl, the city’s financial consultant, said he has heard this complaint from homeowners in other communities, too, even though special assessments are routinely itemized in the abstract the buyer receives.


But, he added, the City of Hillsboro “has made all the effort required” to make home buyers aware of the assessments.


Peterson said the city may have met the legal requirements, but perhaps it had an ethical responsibility to do more.


City Administrator Steve Garrett said he didn’t feel it was appropriate for the city to be responsible for the way private transactions are conducted.


In the end, the council went along with Rayl’s suggestion that the city send a generic letter to local builders, real estate agents and lenders that would encourage them to clearly communicate impending special assessments.


Also on hand for the public hearing was Dorothy Soldan, Prairie Pointe developer. She questioned the way some of the figures for Prairie Pointe had been reached. When her concern was finally clarified, Rayl said he would review his calculations.


After the council returned to regular session, members Padgett, Wendell Dirks and Matt Hiebert voted 3-0 to move ahead with publishing Ordinance 1045, with corrections as required. Councilman Leonard Coryea was absent.


In other business, the council authorized Padgett, in the absence of Mayor Delores Dalke, to sign a proclamation making June “Kansas Business Appreciation Month” in Hillsboro.


Eric Meyer, representing Hoch Publishing and the Hillsboro Star-Journal, told the council no opinion was pending from the attorney general’s office about the qualifications of the Hillsboro Free Press Digest to be the city’s official newspaper.


Because of that, Meyer said the council should review the arrangement made last month that city legals be published in both the Digest and the Star-Journal until an opinion was issued. The council agreed to add the item to its June 19 agenda.


In his report to the council, Garrett said:


no bids had been received on the property at 219 N. Main; the city purchased it earlier to remove a dilapidated house and is now selling the lot.


the start of water sales to Peabody has been delayed because engineering work needs to be done to repair a leak in the holding tank in Hillsboro-but that work does not involve Hillsboro financially.


Fire Chief Wayne Lowry will retire Aug. 16.


with the council’s blessing, he would like to include funding for vehicle replacement in next year’s budget to avoid having to deal with “a fleet of rust buckets” in the future.


the city’s new trash truck had arrived and was being prepared for service.

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