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Blobaum v. City of Strawberry

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

EVERETT J. BLOBAUM and JEAN BLOBAUM, et. al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CITY OF STRAWBERRY POINT, IOWA, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clayton County, David P. Odekirk, Judge.

         Property owners appeal special assessments levied by the City of Strawberry Point.

          Zachary C. Herrmann, Elkader, for appellants.

          Dustin T. Zeschke and Beth E. Hansen of Swisher & Cohrt, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellee.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Property owners appeal special assessments levied by the City of Strawberry Point.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) determined the Elkader Street portion of Highway 13 running through Strawberry Point required reconstruction. The DOT formulated five alternatives for completion of the project. The fifth alternative was deemed the most feasible because it maintained traffic "throughout the project, " minimizing "the negative economic impact" of "detouring traffic around the community." Under this alternative, the City would simultaneously improve "sanitary sewer mains and services" to adjacent property owners, using "slip lining methods." A project engineer described this method as "pulling through the existing pipe, a material, a carrier material, and expanding] it to the perimeter of the pipe." He elaborated, "[R]esin is forced into [the pipe], and it cures and hardens and creates a rigid pipe within the existing pipe." The slip-lining method was an alternative to the "open cut" method used on another project.[1]

         Property owners were advised they would be paying for the sewer and water connections from the street to their land. The City's special assessments were higher than expected. The owners believed the higher cost was attributable to the use of the slip-lining method.

         After the final assessment schedule was issued, owners appealed the assessment amounts to the district court. See Iowa Code § 384.66(2) (2014) ("A person having an interest in any property specially assessed may appeal from the amount of the assessment, at any stage of the special assessment procedure up to twenty days after the final publication of notice of filing of the final assessment schedule, by petition to the district court of the county where the property is located but such appeal is only to the amount of that assessment and does not stay further proceedings by the council on the improvement."). They alleged the assessments were "not in accordance with the special benefit conferred upon" them. See id. § 384.61 (stating generally "[t]he total cost of a public improvement . . . must be assessed against all lots within the assessment district in accordance with the special benefits conferred upon the property, and not in excess of such benefits"). Following a bench trial, the district court entered judgment for the City. The court denied a posttrial motion.

         Property owners Everett and Jean Blobaum proceeded with an appeal.[2]

         II. Analysis

         "A city may assess to private property within the city the cost of construction and repair of public improvements within the city, and main sewers, sewage pumping stations, disposal and treatment plants, waterworks, water mains, extensions, and drainage conduits extending outside the city." Id. § 384.38(1). As noted, the cost must be assessed "in accordance with the special benefits" conferred on the property. Id. ยง 384.61. At the same time, where the special assessments are "for the construction or repair of underground connections for private property for gas, water, sewers, or electricity, " the legislature has declined to limit the assessment to twenty-five percent of the property's value, ...


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