By Bob Balgemann


Resident Richard Wainright appeared before the Committee of the Whole during the public comments portion of its June 14 meeting. His subject was maintenance of property along the S-curve on Chrysler Drive, which he alone had been doing for the past four years.

After making his pitch for someone else to help with, or take over, that task, a second and perhaps bigger issue was placed on the table. That was the question of why wasn’t the property Wainright had been caring for, which is part of the Oakbrook Woods subdivision, generating taxes for the city?

First, Wainright recounted how he was driving home when he almost ran into two boys riding bicycles in a dark, overgrown area along that road. When he couldn’t find out who owned that property, he and his little push mower started taking care of it.

Initially, he said it took him 12 hours a week, for three weeks, to make the sidewalk passable. Some time later, while cutting deeper into the underbrush, he found two fire hydrants in there. In all, he soon had cleared the whole south side of the road from the existing subdivision to just east of the bridge and up to the houses.

“The north side didn’t get taken care of until I talked to Alderman (Clayton) Stevens,” he reported. Overall, he said his appearance before the committee was about safety and aesthetics. 

As for the immediate future, he said he and his “little putt-putt mower” planned to keep cutting the grass, “because right now I don’t see anyone who can do it better than me.”

At that point Mayor Clint Morris referred to Wainright as “a great steward of the community and we appreciate it.”

There typically isn’t any discussion of remarks made during the public comments portion of a meeting. But in this case, there was an agenda item later in the meeting that dealt directly with the points raised by Wainright.

Who’s responsible?

Discussion of Oakbrook Woods Plat No. 1 Maintenance had been requested by Stevens in a letter to the mayor. He wanted to know why the subdivision’s homeowners association (HOA), listed as owner of the property in question, wasn’t paying taxes on the land and why it wasn’t maintaining the parcel?

As a lengthy discussion unfolded, the following facts were learned:

• Oakbrook Woods HOA had involuntarily dissolved March 11, 2011. “So, frankly, we don’t have anybody to go to for maintenance issues,” City Attorney Mike Drella said. 

• City Planner Gina DelRose contacted the county’s new chief assessment officer, Jessica Muellner, and was told that within state statutes it says property owned by an HOA can’t be taxed.

The planner added: “The logic was houses around this green space usually are appraised higher because that’s an amenity, right next door to them. So they’re paying higher taxes that partially make up for the HOA not paying any property tax.”

After that, Morris observed, “I would think that we would have to maintain that” area. “Brent, do you have any comments?”

Public Works Director Brent Anderson said maintaining that property “would be an additional expense without any revenue.”

“From what I’m hearing,” Morris replied, “I don’t know if there’s any way out of that. I’m sure Mr. Wainright doesn’t want to spend the rest of his years out there, mowing.”

In fact, according to Stevens’ letter to the mayor, Wainright “would like the owners of the property to step up and start maintaining their property.”

Alderman Wendy Frank said she thought it was a matter of the city maintaining the sidewalk and fire hydrants, which it owns.

Special tax area

Alderman Dan Snow raised the possibility of creating a special service taxing area for the property in question. It was said earlier that the parcel was about 16 acres in size.

“If you go that route,” Anderson replied, “you could structure it at whatever level you would like to see the improvements made. One level would be just maintaining the area. Another level would be putting in multi-use paths.”

But Drella interjected, “Special service areas do require court action.”

Of the city possibly maintaining that area, Stevens asked if the public works department even had a tractor with a brush mower on it?

“We have the equipment to maintain what’s previously been mowed,” Anderson answered.

The discussion began to wrap up when Drella said he would do some more research into the situation at hand. Then it will be up to the city council to decide what it wants to do next. One possibility was securing title to the property. Or council could decide to just mow the area three or four times a year.

“My point wasn’t to inherit the property, but inherit the maintenance,” the mayor said. “Somebody has to do the maintenance.” He added that the concern wasn’t so much with the existing detention area, but with the public right of way.

It was stated earlier that the property was in a floodway, with a creek running through it, and was not buildable.

Alderman Tom Porter said he earlier wanted to offer a motion that the city temporarily maintain that area, to keep it safe.

While Drella replied that could be done, he said it wasn’t necessary.

“Public works can just do that. We already mow grass on private property that doesn’t respond to our complaints and summonses.”

Given the attorney’s plan to research the matter further, Morris said, “All right, then we’ll move forward.”

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