July 10, 1996
Recently you wanted to know if special assessments can be used for sidewalk construction. I am pretty sure so. Almost all the case law on the subject is quite old and not of much use.
Tennessee Code Annotated Title 7 Chapter 32 lays out the manner in which special assessments must be made. Most of these sections are self explanatory thus I will not lay out every one, but I do think that several are worthy of mention. §7-32-102 mandates that these improvements must be adopted by ordinance and that such ordinance shall lay the nature, site, materials and terminal points of such improvements. §7-32-104 requires the governing body to set a time to meet to hear any objections to such project not less than two weeks after the first publication of the notice of the ordinance while §7-32-105 further specifies that such notice shall be published for two weeks in a paper of general circulation and that the notice must state the character of the improvements, the locations thereof and the time and the place for a public meeting on the subject.
The statute specifically mentions streets, highways and alleys and any other public place (emphasis added). Though it does not mention sidewalks, I do know that in the past it has been used to include water and sewer improvements, and I think the language is definitely broad enough to include the construction of sidewalks.
An assessment against can be made against abutting property owners up to 2/3 of the cost of improvements. §7-32-116 restricts the aggregate amount of the assessment against any lot to 1/2 of the cash value of the lot. Cash value means the fair sale price if sold at a voluntary sale. Any assessment above the cash value must be paid by the municipality. §7-32-115 mandates the apportionment of the cost of the improvement among abutting property owners in relation to the frontage of such property on the street or highway, or in this case, sidewalk.
Valuation of the property subject to the assessment can become an issue in using this statue. Since the property in question is commercial and the cost of improvement is fairly low, I don't think this is a big problem given these set of facts. As mentioned, a section of the statute, §7-32-116 does restrict the city to an assessment of 1/2 cash value of the lot. I would make this amount 1/2 of the value of the property as assessed for property taxes. I think this makes for an easily ascertained amount.
Please feel free to contact me if I may be of any further assistance on this or any other matter.