Leslei Spalding was among six Kenai property-owners who recently received bills from the city for $6,274.58 — part of the cost of a paving project that Kenai administrators say the owners requested by petition and agreed to share the expense of.
At Wednesday’s Kenai city council meeting, Spalding and three other billed residents disputed the charge, saying they hadn’t asked for their street to be paved, hadn’t consented to share the cost, and hadn’t been informed the project would take place.
In 2014, pavement on VIP Drive — a residential street on the south side of the Kenai River — came to a stop before the road’s end in a gravel cul-de-sac. Spalding, owner of two cul-de-sac lots, said she called the city to find out why the pavement didn’t continue to the road’s end.
“I originally called just to ask why we didn’t have it paved and how we could get it paved,” Spalding said. “(Kenai city manager) Rick (Koch) told me that over 50 percent of the people would have to say ‘yes, that’s what we want.’ So I walked around and talked, and most of the people weren’t interested. So I dropped it.”
Kenai municipal code allows residents to initiate city projects such as road paving with a petition signed by half the benefiting residents. The city pays half the project’s cost, with all the area residents splitting the other half evenly among themselves. The arrangement is called a local improvement district.
Spalding said that after she made her inquiry, her VIP Drive neighbors Dave and Linda Machado took up the paving idea by seeking a cost estimate.
“Dave said he was going to call and get a petition,” Spalding said. “He said ‘This is just a petition to sign to see if that’s what we’re interested in doing — we aren’t going to get it paved if it’s too much.’”
Answering Spalding’s original question at the Wednesday council meeting, Koch said the VIP drive cul-de-sac had been unpaved because the subdivision’s property developer had declined to pave it. According to Kenai’s cost estimate, the total cost of paving the cul-de-sac would be $126,396, of which the city and property owners would each pay $63,198 under a local improvement arrangement. Divided among the 9 cul-de-sac properties, the cost would be $7,022 each.
Spalding and two other VIP Drive residents said Linda Machado had told them the petition was for a cost estimate only. According to a letter to the city council from VIP resident Ted Benson, the group collectively decided not to pave their cul-de-sac after seeing the cost.
Koch said at Wednesday’s meeting that the petition the residents submitted was not for a cost estimate, but for the paving project itself.
According to Kenai records, the VIP Drive improvement petition was submitted on Feb. 14, 2014. The petition, acquired by information request from the city of Kenai, has the signatures of four property owners — Spalding, Dave Machado, Edward Farnes, and Ted Benson — who between them own 6 of the 9 lots in the cul-de-sac. The petition, a city form filled out by hand, states in its printed text that “we, the undersigned, desire the City of Kenai to establish a special improvement district in the following area,” with “VIP DR culdesac” written below. The petition’s space for the “requested improvement” is filled in by hand with “pavement — pave the culdesac.”
If a local improvement petition is successful, residents who did not sign it are also billed for an even share of a project’s expense. Allen Dowell, one of three property owners listed on the petition who declined to sign, responded to Koch’s statement that the petition was a request for paving, not for a cost estimate.
“I understand, but that’s what we were told when he (Machado) was passing it around,” Dowell said. “He came to me five times to try to get me to sign, and I wouldn’t sign it because I knew it would roll into a pavement project. And I didn’t want it because I simply couldn’t afford it. And there’s a couple others who couldn’t afford it, but they didn’t think they were signing for approval. They thought they were signing for an estimated cost for the project.”
According to Ted Benson’s letter, Linda Machado told Benson she had sent a letter to the city asking to cancel the petition after the group learned the cost. Koch and Kenai city clerk Sandra Modigh both said the city hadn’t received a cancelation request. Dowell and other VIP residents speaking at the meeting said the Machados had moved to Idaho before the paving was done, and that the residents were now trying to contact the couple about their letter to cancel the petition.
VIP residents speaking at the meeting said they were surprised to see pavement on their road in 2015.
“I came home from being down in the southeast last summer and the road was paved,” Spalding said. “I just decided they must have felt bad because they didn’t pave it when they paved the rest of the road. That’s the only way I could make sense of this, because I never intended to do it.”
The city record states that notices were mailed to the property owners on June 16, 2014, a month prior to the July 16 city council meeting at which the VIP road improvements were discussed and approved. Four notices were also published in the Peninsula Clarion in June and July 2014, according to the same source.
According to the minutes of the Kenai Council’s July 16, 2014 meeting, no public testimony was given and the paving was approved by unanimous consent. The resolution passed states that no written objections were received.
“All the notices required in code went to the petitioners, to all the property owners in the (Local Improvement District),” Koch said.
Benson, Dowell, and Spalding stated that they don’t read the Clarion. Billed property owner Chere Avigo said she and her husband hadn’t known about the petition or the project because she was living outside Kenai at the time — she and her husband recently moved back into her VIP Drive home after renting it out for several years. Spalding works on the North Slope and said she is often away. Ted Benson wrote in his letter that he found out about the paving from the work crew doing it, and was later told by city administrators that it was too late to stop the project.
The property owner’s share of the project — $6,274.58 — is slightly less than the estimated $7,022. The billing resolution discussed Wednesday would have allowed property owners to pay on a 10- or 15-year schedule with 10 percent annual interest. Spalding would be billed double for her two lots. At the time of the petition, Machado owned two VIP Drive lots, but has since sold one. The current owner would be billed for one of Machado’s shares.
Kenai realtor Fred Braun, attending to the meeting to speak to another issue, said that if one of the billed owners sold their property in the future, they would either have to pay the balance of the bill or pass it on to the buyer.
The city council unanimously postponed the decision to bill the property owners until their next meeting on April 6. Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said the postponement would allow the city administration time to investigate and compile documentation of the incident.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.