Every year, City Council members convene a public hearing on so-called “miscellaneous special assessments”—when late utility bills, citations and invoices are assessed against a property.
Every year, a handful of property owners show up at the hearing to ask for leniency on payments the city is legally allowed to collect.
These payments are no small deal for property owners. Some of them are a few thousand dollars. But they’re also a big deal for the city. This year, assessments totaled $117,756. About 87 percent of that is from delinquent utility payments. If a property owner doesn’t pay his or her share of utilities, everyone else must pick up the tab.
Below are two appeals property owners made at Tuesday’s public hearing. Read through the arguments then leave your thoughts in the comments below about how fair you thought the city’s decision was.
And for those who have their own problems with late payments to the city, Hopkins staff encourages you to stay in touch.
“When you get a notice from the City of Hopkins, call us. We will be happy to work with you any way we can,” said Assistant City Manager Jim Genellie.
The case of John G. Radziej
The facts: Radziej is a Buffalo resident who has two Hopkins rental properties on the assessment list. He’s had the properties for seven or eight years and initially had the required rental licenses. However he failed to renew the licenses in 2010 and 2011. That resulted in a $500 citation and a $100 service charge on each property, for a total of $1,200.
The property owner’s argument: Radziej noted that he secured licenses for both properties in 2012, paying double for getting the licenses late. He said he has gotten so accustomed to paying bills online that he was negligent in opening the notices Hopkins mailed him. The city finally caught his attention when it mailed him a notice in an envelope with packing peanuts.
The city’s argument: Every property owner received at least two notices before being put on the assessment list, Genellie said. “The City of Hopkins doesn’t normally send out junk mail,” he said. Moreover, Radziej failed to renew his rental license in back-to-back years.
The verdict: The City Council voted to waive the citation and only have Radziej pay the $200 in service charges—emphasizing that members wouldn’t be as lenient if it happened again.
The case of Sohan Uppal
The facts: Uppal is a Bloomington resident who has 16 units on the list with assessments totaling $9,188. Delinquent utility payments account for $7,008 of those assessments.
The property owner’s argument: Uppal blamed the late utility payments on the economy. He passes the bills on to his tenants and reminds them to pay when they’re late. But many are genuinely struggling. “It’s tough, when people cannot feed their family, to shut off their water. I cannot do that,” he said. And if he tries to force the people to pay their bills, they’ll just leave and he’ll be stuck with the tab.
The city’s argument: “I’ve been on (the council) for seven years, and I’ve always seen your name on the list,” Councilwoman Cheryl Youakim told Uppal. Genellie said Uppal’s assessments are a result of his business model, not the economy. In fact, the city added the $100 service fee to discourage landlords from doing business this way. Youakim suggested he build utilities into the rent if he’s having so many problems collecting from tenants. Said Mayor Gene Maxwell: “There are a lot of rental properties in the City of Hopkins and somehow they pay their utilities.”
The verdict: Uppal most pay his full assessment.
Hopkins Special AssessmentsYear Total assessments Utilities Utilities Percent 2012 $117,756 $101,956 87 percent 2011 $135,313 $111,703 83 percent 2010 $116,641 $97,505 84 percent 2009 $87,248 $78,847 90 percent 2008 $120,239 $107,778 90 percent 2007 $95,440 $72,966 76 percent
SOURCE: City of Hopkins