Archive for Friday, April 27, 2007

Sidewalk funding at center of debate

Some commissioners say city should help homeowners foot bill

April 27, 2007


6News video: City officials could turn more aggressive towards fixing broken sidewalks

A new proposal could force more Lawrence homeowners to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix their sidewalks. Enlarge video

Sidewalk budget

City commissioners do have some money in their 2007 budget to address sidewalk issues.

But the money is set aside to fill in gaps in the sidewalk network, not to fix existing sidewalks. The city's Public Works Department is recommending three projects to address sidewalk gaps:

¢ The south side of Sixth Street from Rockledge Road to Schwarz Road, with an estimated cost of $62,415.

¢ The north side of Ninth Street from Sunset Drive to Iowa Street, with an estimated cost of $35,370.

¢ The south side of Trail Road from Lawrence Avenue to Rockfence Place, with an estimated cost of $45,000.

Public works officials chose the sites based on how the streets are, the amount of pedestrian traffic, as well as other neighborhood issues such as the proximity of schools.

The pink paint is flowing in the 1500 block of New Hampshire Street, which means residents soon will need to start breaking out the green money.

Rodney Carr, 1512 N.H., recently came home to see the pink spray paint dotting the sidewalks up and down his street. It's the way city officials mark areas of sidewalk that are in such bad shape that they need repairs for safety reasons.

But under state and city laws, the government doesn't pay for the repairs. Instead, the property owner adjacent to the sidewalk is responsible for the repairs. For residents of the 1500 block of New Hampshire, that news has been about as popular as the loud stereo next door.

"This is not what you'd call a wealthy street. It's going to be a financial problem for quite a few people," Carr said of the notice, which gave residents until June 1 to fix the sidewalks or face the prospect of being taken to court by the city.

Having the city bear all the costs of repairs - as it does for streets - might be a problem for taxpayers. A 2006 city report estimated 10.2 miles of sidewalks are rated as critical - meaning they have rises or dips that are greater than 2 inches or are largely covered with weeds or grass. There's an additional 42.2 miles of sidewalks that are rated poor.

At the current price of about $40 per foot to replace a standard sidewalk, that equates to a little more than $2 million the city would have to spend to fix the critical sidewalks. Another $9 million would be needed to fix the poor sidewalks.

Public works leaders - the folks who own the pink paint cans - want to know what city commissioners want to do. Currently, the Public Works Department forces people to make sidewalk repairs only if the area has been the subject of a specific complaint.

But Chuck Soules, director of public works, said his department could get more aggressive in sending out repair notices to property owners, regardless of whether a complaint has been filed.

Some city commissioners have said they have interest in becoming more aggressive, but only if the city can make the financial process a little easier for homeowners to swallow.

New City Commissioner Mike Dever said he's interested in creating a system in which the city would provide low-interest financing for homeowners to repair their sidewalks. The property owners could repay the city by paying a little extra each month on their utility bills.

Commissioner Boog Highberger is willing to go a step further. He said he's interested in providing financing to homeowners, but also thinks the city at-large should pay a percentage of all sidewalk repair costs.

"I think that might be a better way to share the burden more fairly," Highberger said.

But Highberger admits he doesn't know how the city would raise the money to cover its share of the costs. He said it likely would take some type of new tax or fee.

Dever said he has no interest in creating a new sidewalk fee that all residents would pay.

The issue is expected to be a topic of discussion as commissioners this summer craft a budget for 2008. Soules said he would like the City Commission to consider something that would allow some of the city's worst sidewalks to be repaired now instead of waiting for a problem or complaint.

"We do have some safety issues," Soules said. "There are some definite tripping hazards out there."


Ragingbear 10 years, 7 months ago

The sidewalk is actually government property, hence the easement of what they took from the property. Since the owner of the property is not allowed to modify sidewalk in any way, it is clear that it is not theirs. Therefore, it belongs to the city, and is THEIR responsibility to take care of it. That is how reality works for just about every city out there.

Nikki May 10 years, 7 months ago

I don't know what the solution is to this. However, I'd like to point out that no one asked me if I wanted a sidewalk. Maybe I don't. If it's my responsibility, what if I want it gone. I'm pretty sure I can't do that.

nell 10 years, 7 months ago

I should probably know the answer to this, but I don't. If a homeowner has accepted public egress for a sidewalk in the purchase of the property, does that entail responsibility for maintenance and sole liability if someone is injured or suffers other damages from 'their' section of bad (eg icy, muddy, uneven/damaged) sidewalk? If so, then I suppose it's reasonable to expect the homeowner to foot the bill, though it seems churlish of the community privileged to use the walk not to pitch in for it, whether via financing or neighborhood/community volunteer projects.

I don't own a sidewalk, but I do appreciate them. Dever's comment implies that he doesn't want people who don't own sidewalks to help pay for them, as if they were a non-essential (or at least not vital) element of the COMMUNITY.

Perhaps homeowners should set up sidewalk turnpikes to pay for repairs?

Bradley Kemp 10 years, 7 months ago

The easement is not property owned by the city. It is privately owned land on which the city has a right of way.

If the city owned it, it wouldn't need the right of way.

Bladerunner 10 years, 7 months ago

I was the first to build on my street 19 years ago. I intentionally chose an empty lot on the side of the street with no sidewalk. No sidewalk repairs. No rude neighbors walking their dogs making potty stops in your yard. People need to plan ahead.

fed_up 10 years, 7 months ago

Souki is correct, it is simply a right of way. However, you are not "supposed to" modify that easement including planting a tree, removing a tree, trimming a tree in that easement or block any part of that easement. This would include not parking your car behind another car to the point that it would block the sidewalk at any time. It is I believe a $30 ticket if you block the sidewalk by parking your car in your own driveway. There are areas of town with no parking on either side of the street that this is a serious issue with. Particularly if the homeowners have teenagers that drive and more than 2 cars to squeeze into their driveway with no street parking. If the sidewalk is damaged though, it is the homeowner's responsibility to fix it according to the city.

OnlyTheOne 10 years, 7 months ago

The sidewalks are owner's responsibilty, cleaning and maintenance, as well they should be. Time people in this town learned a little about "assessments."

Jeanne Cunningham 10 years, 7 months ago

Also, you MAY do the work yourself and/or hire the work done by whomever you choose. If there are some areas of the sidewalk for which you are responsible, you MAY tear out and replace JUST that area.

I know that this is NOT feasible for everyone, but offer it as a solution for some.

Also, what about starting some sort of Sidewalks for Citizens (you know - parallel to Habitat for Humanity?) to help out those who are NOT able to do it themselves.

It is NOT rocket science. It DOES take some strong backs to tear out the old concrete, but framing it up and pouring the new walk is pretty simple.

A few years back I was required to repair my sidewalk. We did it ourselves and did it for about 1/4 the cost of the lowest estimate I got. The materials ARE the largest component of the expense. If you can get free labor, it's NOT too bad.

The city could to tear out and get rid of the old material; loan the tools, framing, etc.; purchase the concrete in bulk; and organize volunteer work crews. That would be a win-win for the homeowners and the city. I'm thinking that CONTRACTORS would be the only ones who might lose a little. But, if they considered the increased value it would create on ALL city properties, even they should be able to rationalize it.

Q. Does the condition of the sidewalk increase/decrease the home's valuation?

If so, the city has an interesting vested interest in this improvement -make the homeowner pay to improve the property - then charge them higher taxes for having done it.....

Jeanne Cunningham 10 years, 7 months ago

NOT happy.

Did you have complaints? What DID prompt the change?

The NEW format appears to be designed for new BIG high resolution monitors - NOT old, small screens that many of us loyal old readers have.....

It's kind of like when a grocery store decides to remodel and move everything all around - making it hard for the old, loyal shoppers to find stuff...

irnmadn88 10 years, 7 months ago

I have 80 yards of sidewalk on a corner lot. Luckily for me it is in good repair.

But what is my time worth to clear that sidewalk of snow and ice? I did it five times for the four storms this past winter. Or my driveway that the City blocks with snow when they clear the street?

Or how about the 25 feet of City Right of Way (includes the sidewalk) that is grass that I am obligated to keep mowed?

Maybe I should send a bill (ala a hammer or toilet seat) to the City and call it even on the taxes.

Baille 10 years, 7 months ago

My sidewalk is currently in good repair; however, if there ever comes a time I need to replace it, it would include a colorful reference to the entrenched power structure. :)

fletch 10 years, 7 months ago

"It's the homeowner's responsibility to mantain the sidewalk.

It's clearly stated on state and city laws. There are no exceptions"

I agree it's their job to maintain it, but is it fair to force them to maintain something that was apparently shoddily built the first time around, especially if they had no control over how it was built?

It also begs a question about how you're allowed to replace it. Does it have to be of the same material as the neighboring sidewalk? Can you use alternative materials such as recycled tire sidewalks (better for the environment, more durable, safer to fall on, cheaper to install and maintain)?

KsTwister 10 years, 7 months ago

Years ago I bought a home that included sidewalks in the sale listed as specials in the mortgage. After paying for those 'specials' for about 10 years the city decided to put in sidewalks for the new school. Well, guess what, the city charged $600 for those sidewalks to the property owners who had to have them on their side of the street. I moved. Others in the neighborhood were not so lucky. As soon as they put them in your responsible,we did not want them to begin with. They did a cheap job and now those people have to deal with it.

I suggest you get out your jackhammers and put in a brick one that will stand up to the Kansas winters and easy to fix without robbing the homeowner. It is a sure bet the city cannot take care of things.

oldgoof 10 years, 7 months ago

Bowhunter sez:"It's the homeowner's responsibility to mantain the sidewalk. It's clearly stated on state and city laws. There are no exceptions" .. Oldgoof challenges the assertion that there is any state statute (law) on this topic.

Bowhunter? Do you know, or are you just relying on the newsarticle?

Anyone? Anyone? .... Buhler?..Buhler?

DBAWalt 10 years, 7 months ago

I agree it should be teh property owners responsibility.

I don't own the property the sidewalk in front of my house is on. I don't know who does own that property, but I do know that the city wants me to maintain it.

Again, it is not on my property. The sidewalk in front of your house is also not on my property. The sidewalk downtown is not on my property.

I do not agree that I should be required to maintain someone elses structure on someone elses property, just because of the nearness of their property to mine.

SloMo 10 years, 7 months ago

We all pay taxes to maintain the streets whether we drive or not, so why shouldn't we all help pay for sidewalks? Even if you drive everywhere you go, wouldn't you rather have the pedestrians up on sidewalks and out of your way?

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

CDBG money cannot be used for sidewalks of rental properties which is likely the major source of this matter. If absentee homeowners will not maintain their properties then reimbursement to the city is warranted.

Don't want a sidewalk tax then take care of them yourselves and tell the commissioners to bill absentee money making homeowners.

Those who simply CANNOT could be given preferential consideration so far as I am concerned.

Weed trimmers are excellent tools for this matter in many cases. Then sweep or blow the debris off. Don't forget safety goggles.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

I believe bricks should be used considering they have a 50 year estimated life span or perhaps more when used for sidewalks.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

I was informed that CDBG money COULD NOT be used to repair sidewalks attached to rental properties because they are a business when I sat on the CDBG advisory board some years back. Some requested money to replace long segments of walk however no walk could be replaced on rental property. Property owners "own" sidewalks in front of their properties perhaps as a result of a benefit district or by request. Most people I do believe want and like sidewalks. It is the cost of community services.

I do believe the Sunflower House is a cooperative not for profit unlike the many rental properties scattered about town.

hawkperchedatriverfront you do believe CDBG money is a good thing for home rehab don't you?for the most unfortunate in our community?

KsTwister 10 years, 7 months ago

Hawk is right merrill, I paid for a sidewalk on rental property too. And as everyone wants them, well not the property owners who got them. They come with headaches for the property owner. Your info needs an update. Any homeowner who has a curb side tree needs to make the city replace it too.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

"Maybe Dever and Chestnut, and Hack and Boog(who endorsed the spending) will explain why the city paid $54,000 for a set of 18 steps that anyone else could have had done for $14,00. Go check it out folks. Cul de sac at 12th And Mississippi. Your tax dollars at work. How many feet of walks would $40,000 do?"

Dever,Chestnut and Boog I do not believe were sitting commissioners for that approval. Hack however very well could have been. Why not bring up Amyx for he has long history as a commisioner prior to this sitting?

Aside from all of this I do believe sidewalks are a good investment for walkers which likely could increase as gas prices go up. There are a lot of walkers in this town.

KsTwister 10 years, 7 months ago

Dever and Chestnut could not have been involved, they have only spent a month on the commission now. However, Rundle, Hack, Boog, Shauner and Amyx were.

Rarely do I see the amount of pedestrians to warrant the miles of sidewalks that go in on some of these divisions. So much for helping global warming. Five people in a week does not make a sidewalk a necessity in my book.

fed_up 10 years, 7 months ago

I was told that if an existing sidewalk is replaced for any reason it's supposed to be 5ft wide to meet a new city code instead of the 3 ft most of them are currently. Does anyone know if this is true? Thats almost double the concrete for these people who already think they can't afford it.

fed_up 10 years, 7 months ago

If it is true, I guess that's 1 less swipe with the mower....

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

"27 April 2007 at 5:13 p.m.

Suggest removal

merrill (Anonymous) says:

I was informed that CDBG money COULD NOT be used to repair sidewalks attached to rental properties because they are a business when I sat on the CDBG advisory board some years back. "

That is the problem with you, Merrill. You get yourself appointed to city boards, and then wait for people to "inform" you. Your responsibility is to do the research yourself.

Why, by the way, is Merrill on TWO advisory boards? Are there not enough people willing to serve that we have to have Merrill doing double duty? No wonder things are screwed up!


Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

Doesn't the city have some policy regarding the "anonymous" blogging of city advisory board members when the blogging involves the matters considered by the board?

KsTwister 10 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the info Pogo and Godot. Explains a lot to me about past discussions,but when people who should know----ridiculous.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

Neighborhoods and organizations submit requests to the CDBG advisory board. If organizations do not apply no consideration is put on the table. The process of approval is long and tedious. The money is well spent and does a lot for the city.

So worried about the neighborhoods trying to improve neighborhoods with government tax dollars? That's why the money is is made available. The home rehab money is not free as homeowners pay back at low monthly payments. All who have requested this money love it which is why it is not yet been criticized on this board. It is an excellent program. This family received the assistance and are making our payments. Thank You Lawrence, Kansas and Uncle Sam...job well done.

The Salvation Army submits a request from time to time yet their corporate office sits on millions upon millions of dollars(public information). The corporate office is not being a big player in the construction of a new location. The SA has money to invest in high dollar property yet asks for CDBG funding? Go figure.

Yep sidewalks are great. I seriously doubt any sidewalk tax will happen cuz too many local officials and their friends own rental units ....and is nowhere near approval.

Local organic produce is wonderful and available to all at the farmers market,the merc and many local eateries about town in season.

I am not anonymous which means my name is Merrill. The question becomes why do some want to remain anonymous when slamming others? I am for real names only on these boards.

Through all of the nonsense other than sidewalk talk I still say sidewalks are a good investment. Some neighborhoods were designed without walks,smooth streets and nice drains so those areas actually free up more tax dollars for other parts of town. Most of us are okay with that.

tir 10 years, 7 months ago

The sidewalks are a part of city infrastructure, like the streets, sewers and water mains. They are PUBLIC rights of way, for PUBLIC use, and as such they really should be maintained with PUBLIC funds. But instead, this city, like many others, has passed an ordinance to "pass the buck" for sidewalk repair onto property owners and force them to come up with the bucks to fix them.

Property owners actually have NO RIGHTS as far as the sidewalks that run across their property are concerned, except the right to traverse them, which they share with every other member of the general public. But property owners who have sidewalks on their properties are saddled with ALL THE RESPONSIBILITIES of cleaning, maintaining and replacing them.This may be the law, but it is NOT a fair law, especially when it comes time to tear the sidewalk out and replace it. Forcing property owners to bear the cost amounts to an unfair tax. It can cost upwards of $2000-3000, and many people would find it a real hardship to come up with a lump sum like that on short notice. Doing the work yourself may be an option for some, but not everyone has the expertise to do finished concrete work so that it meets city specs or the physical strength to jackhammer out the old sidewalk.

If City Hall wants the sidewalks repaired, they ought to work in partnership with the property owners. They need to offer help, advice, and payment options instead of spraying paint around and mailing out threatening letters full of legalese and ultimatums. EVERYONE in Lawrence will benefit if the sidewalks are fixed--no doubt about it. This could be a very positive thing if it is done in a friendly, co-operative manner with some consideration given to the property owner's financial situation. But the current city policy, which focuses on "code enforcement" by means of legal threats, is a very negative, very adversarial process which leaves the homeowners on the receiving end of it feeling bitter, angry, and frustrated. Is that really the best way to foster good relationships between the city and its citizens?

KsTwister 10 years, 7 months ago

I wholly agree. 100% If you represent the people in a position you should have the guts to show your ability to debate with the people. Besides the rest of us would just get our homes egged ---which is not the same as having egg on your face.

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