A proposal has emerged to add more than $150,000 a year to the city's budget to fund a project manager who would oversee improvements to the city's sidewalk system
A new City Hall report, however, is estimating it likely will take millions of dollars over multiple years to make a dent in the backlog of broken and missing sidewalks in the city.
"They are some pretty big numbers," Public Works Director Chuck Soules said of estimated repair and replacement costs.
The biggest number is $42 million. That's how much the city is estimating it would cost to ensure that every street in the city had a sidewalk on both sides of it. Current city codes require new developments to have sidewalks on both sides of a street, but for decades the codes allowed for only a single sidewalk or no sidewalks in some instances.
Other findings from the recently completed sidewalk inventory include:
• If city officials want to repair all existing sidewalks, it would cost about $6.1 million .
• More than half of the sidewalk ramps at intersections and other such locations are not currently compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report found about 3,700 ramps not in compliance with the ADA law. Engineers estimate it would cost at least $3.2 million to repair the ramps.
• It would cost at least $7.5 million to ensure every residential street in the city has a sidewalk on at least one side.
"It won't be an overnight fix," Soules said. "It took us a long time to build the city in this manner, and it will take awhile to change it."
Under state law, maintaining existing sidewalk is the responsibility of adjacent property owners. The city has the legal ability to order property owners to make repairs. If repairs aren't made, the city can make them and assess the costs to the tax bill of the adjacent property.
Soules, however, said the city hasn't often taken that route because it is concerned about the hardship it would create for property owners who don't have the means to pay for the repairs.
If a new position is hired, Soules said that person could be a resource for property owners who have sidewalks in need of repair. Soules said other duties could include looking for sidewalk grants, reviewing designs to ensure sidewalks are properly integrated into development projects, and coordinating bicycle and multi-use path projects.
The position, which also would include a new administrative assistant position, would cost about $200,000 in year No. 1, and then would have about $150,000 per year in ongoing costs.
Soules is stressing that any funding for the position or for a major sidewalk repair initiative should come from new funding — such as additional property or sales taxes — rather than by taking money from the city's street maintenance budget.
Soules is warning commissioners that the projected street maintenance budget for 2015 is $3.1 million. He estimates the city needs to spend about $6 million a year on maintenance activities to ensure overall street conditions don't deteriorate. The city does spend additional money above the $3.1 million amount, but Soules classifies that money as rehabilitation funds that are being used to rebuild streets that have fallen past the point that maintenance is effective. He said he is concerned more streets will require a complete rebuilding if the city falls short on maintenance funds.
"Just look at curbs alone," Soules said. "We are so far behind on getting curbs repaired and replaced. We still have a lot of work to do."
A tax increase for sidewalks will have to get in line with several other proposals that may require tax increases. City Manager David Corliss has said he believes a 1.5 mill increase will be needed just to fund basic city costs such as salaries, health insurance and pension costs. He said he likely will recommend an additional mill levy increase to fund needed equipment purchases for the public works, police and fire departments.
Commissioners also are contemplating asking voters to approve in November either a sales tax or property tax increase to fund a new police headquarters building that could cost $30 million.
Commissioners will receive information on the sidewalk proposal and several other budget issues at a 3:30 p.m. study session on Tuesday at City Hall.