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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Curb-Gutter Assessments Unconstitutional; Sidewalks Next?

Dakota War College provides plentiful ponder fodder this morning. Mr. Powers points toward a KCCR story (which dang it, those radio guys haven't learned to permalink yet! Memo to management: Fix it! and see also the CapJournal coverage) which says that Circuit Judge Kathleen Trandahl ruled last week that the city of Pierre violated the U.S. and state constitutions by imposing special assessments for curb and gutter work. The court found that "Evidence showed conclusively that replacing curb and gutter provided no physical, material or quantifiable special benefits to the property but did provide significant benefits to the city and community as a whole." The special assessments were therefore a taking of private property without just compensation or due process.

Hear hear for the Fifth Amendment! West River landowners, take note: when TransCanada comes knocking on your door with backhoes and condemnation papers, file your suit in Judge Trandahl's court if you can.

So I wonder: are sidewalks next? I've previously suggested that perhaps sidewalks should be built with municipal funds rather than saddling homeowners with the entire cost. We need sidewalks just like we need curb and gutter, but homeowners give up valuable turf for a public good. And unlike with curb and gutter, homeowners (at least here in Madison) are expected to handle hiring a contractor or installing the sidewalk themselves.

Judge Trandahl's ruling, if it withstands possible appeal, could result in thousands of dollars of refunds for 55–60 Pierre residents who paid the special assessment. Hmmm... might the court's reasoning here form the basis for Madison residents to sue the city for a refund on the work they've done to install sidewalks at the city's behest?

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