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Special Assessments - Pavement Economics

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SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS - PAVEMENT ECONOMICS. The proportion of the cost of a pavement paid by the private property is usually collected as a special assessment, which has been defined as "a compulsory contribution paid once and for all to defray the cost of a special improvement to property, undertaken in the public interest, and levied by the government in proportion to the special benefits accruing to the property owner." Special assessments differ from taxes, both general and special, in that the former are based upon a direct and measurable benefit conferred upon the con tributor, which is the measure of his liability to be taxed; while taxes are levied for the maintenance of the institutions and inter ests of the government, without reference to the particular benefits conferred, according to the ability of the contributor to pay. The construction of pavements to be paid for by special asses:: went must be (lone under the direction of the public officials.

In a general way it may be said that there are two distinct methods of apportioning the amount to be paid by the private property; viz.: (1) according to the frontage, and (2) according to the area.

Frontage Rule.

By far the more common method of apportioning the assessments is pro rata according to the front age upon the improvement. This method is often designated as the front-feet rule. Of the forty-five cities in Table 33, page 298, which assess the private property for street improvements, thirty eight or 84 per cent follow the frontage rule, three use a combina tion of front a and area, one uses area alone, one value alone, and in two of the cities the method employed is left to the judgment of the assessing board.

Ordinarily the frontage is an equitable basis upon which to distribute the cost; but under some circumstances a rigid appor tionment according to frontage gives anomalous results. For example, if most of the lots have their shorter side on the improve ment and one has its longer side thus placed, the frontage rule will give inequality—particularly if the latter lot is very narrow. This condition frequently occurs—for example where the most of the lots front up in the street to be paved, while some front upon an intersecting street. In this cage, it is customary to extend the assessment to the middle of the block; that is, assess the lots between the pavement and the center of the block, in which cage it becomes a difficult matter to determine the equitable portion for each of these lots. A rigid adherence to the frontage rule sometimes works injustice near the intersection of two streets cutting each other at an acute angle. However, no method can be devised that may not require modification to fit unusual conditions.

Area Rule.

In a few 7 per cent of those in Table 33, page 298, the cost of street improvement is distributed in pro portion to the area of the abutting lots; but usually the area is used in combination with the frontage. Thus in Brooklyn, N. Y., 60 per cent of the cost is distributed in proportion to the frontage and 41) per cent according to the area. An amendment to the charter of St. Louis proposes to charge 25 per cent of the cost of the pavement according to the frontage and 75 per cent according to the area. The area rule finds its greatest justification on curved streets.

Corner lots are usually the cause of irritation and objection under either the frontage or the area rule, and the method of assess ing them differs materially in different cities. In some cases each margin is considered a front on its proper street. without any modification in the rate of assessment; in a few cases under the area rule an additional per cent is imposed upon the corner lot for the pavement of either Street; but usually the corner is assessed according to frontage at a less pro rata than the inside lots, since it may be assessed on both streets.

Terms of Payment.

There are various methods of pay ing the assessment. 1. The entire amount may become a lien upon the property as soon as the work is completed, to be collected (a) by the contractor, or (b) by the city acting only as collecting agent for the contractor, or (c) by the city, which also becomes responsible to the contractor for the payment of the money. 2. The amount may be divided into equal annual installments, usu ally five or ten, with interest on deferred payments, to be collected (a) by the contractor, or (h) by the city, the contractor receiving special paying-district bonds, or (c) by the city, the contractor receiving general city-bonds. 3. The city may raise a paving fund by general tax or by selling bonds, and pay for improve ments as made, independent of the collection of the special assess ments. The second method is the more common. The first is objectionable because the amount becomes immediately due; and the third is objectionable on account of the difficulty of making the assessments and collections keep pace with each other, and also because of a tendency to produce extravagance.


of Levy. Special assessments can be levied only under explicit authority of the law. The different states have very complete and explicit statutes governing special assessments; and the courts always hold that any material departure from the prescribed procedure invalidates the assessment.