It’s never a good time to raise taxes, even if we’re only talking about 25 or 50 cents a month, but a fee that would allow the city to take over maintenance of residential sidewalks has an element of fairness that makes it worth serious consideration.
Currently, maintaining and/or replacing residential sidewalks is the responsibility of the owners of the property the sidewalks cross. That means that people with sidewalks on their property bear an unfair burden for providing a service for everyone in their neighborhood.
Perhaps of even more concern to city officials, however, is that many property owners simply can’t or won’t find the money to repair or replace sidewalks that have become unsightly and unsafe for local pedestrians. Despite various attempts to work with property owners and finance needed sidewalk work, the city’s sidewalk maintenance problems continue to grow.
To address that problem, City Manager David Corliss is asking city commissioners to consider tacking a small sidewalk maintenance fee onto water and sewer bills. Everyone, whether they have a sidewalk on their property or not, would be required to pay a fee based on the amount of footage their property has on a public street. Corliss is proposing a fee of a half cent or full cent per month; for a typical 50-foot lot, that would amount to either 25 cents or 50 cents per month.
The $200,000 or $400,000 the fee would generate each year would allow the city to get to work on some of the most pressing sidewalk needs. Hopefully, that would be enough money to fund a sustainable program that would keep the city’s sidewalks in acceptable, if not pristine, condition.
Property owners, by the way, still would be responsible for removing snow from the sidewalks, as required by a city ordinance passed last year.
Safe sidewalks for Lawrence pedestrians are just as much a municipal responsibility as safe streets for Lawrence motorists. It only makes sense that the expense of maintaining public sidewalks should be shared by everyone who uses those sidewalks, not shoved off on individual property owners.
A fee of $3 to $6 a year for most property owners would hardly be noticed. It certainly is minuscule compared to the cost individual property owners would bear to replace a stretch of sidewalk. Taking over sidewalk maintenance would be a philosophical shift for Lawrence, but it would let the city take control of a situation that has challenged city officials for many years. Unless city commissioners can identify significant problems with Corliss’ idea, they should move ahead on this fair and practical solution for Lawrence’s sidewalks.