Archive for Monday, June 16, 2014

New City Hall report estimates it will take tens of millions to fix city sidewalks

June 16, 2014

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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.

Comments

Wayne Kerr 1 year, 2 months ago

"A tax increase for sidewalks will have to get in line with several other proposals that may require tax increases." Maybe instead of continuing to raise taxes on Lawrence homeowners the city should reconsider giving tax breaks and special tax districts to hotel and apartment developers? It's compete nonsense that the new 18 million dollar hotel being built downtown is going to be taxed at the same rate as a vacant lot for the next 20 years.

Julius Nolan 1 year, 2 months ago

Hey, when you own the City Council, you never have to pay taxes. Once bought, they stay bought.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

This would be an excellent place to begin ASAP:

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.

Consider that one lane of 4 lane roadway will cover the cost of about 250 miles of shared use paths. Without the expensive cost of maintenance that roads require = win win win.

Caller Hunsaker 1 year, 2 months ago

On my block we have no sidewalk on either side and many homes have trees, shrubs, or bushes up to the curb. So, who picks which side of the street will loose their landscaping? Many residents in my tract are already having their yards dug up to replace some pipes only to have the developers plant a low grade grass seed that comes up mostly weeds, to replace the destroyed lawn.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 2 months ago

Most homeowners do not realize that they do not own the strip in front of there homes. Usually, the water meter cap is reliable marker. Technically, the city can remove vegetation on both sides of the streets for sidewalks. In our neighborhood, the city has been careful to preserve trees and some landscaping. We are fortunate that the city is looking for other ways to pay for sidewalks. The cost would be a shock for homeowners!

Thomas Bryce 1 year, 2 months ago

Well,this is enough of an issue that KCTV 5 Reporter, Brix Fowler, was in my front yard at lunch, camera in hand and recording, looking at the Sidewalk that only goes half way down our street on one side. The side walk is not in that great of condition but the street is worse and it was noted. The City is Raising taxes to fix something I thought my taxes were already supposed to cover. Tax incentives going to Developers when we need investment in Infrastructure. Priorities at city Hall seem to be Not in the Best interest of the average Lawrence Citizen.That was the subject of the interview. I will have to see if they run it.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 2 months ago

I agree with your comment on priorities. Regarding sidewalks, there was no line item in the budget. It doesn't help that state law places the responsibility for a sidewalk on the land owner. This is literally a new thing, hence, the request.

Thomas Bryce 1 year, 2 months ago

Thanks Carol. Since my side of the block never had a sidewalk in the first place, I must admit I know very little about Responsibilities concerning them except the Snow Shoveling Ordinance. Since the sidewalk is in what most would call the City Easement, I thought it was theirs. I think most people are in the same situation.Yes, the Sidewalks are either non-existent or in Poor shape But, I was asking why Not fix the Streets? I use the sidewalks occasionally. I use the Streets Every Day. It has cost me 2 front tires, a steel wheel and a Strut in the last 2 years because of Potholes that were unavoidable or hidden in the snow. All on my wife's car and she is Known for driving slow.

Bob Smith 1 year, 2 months ago

Good thing that Lawrence is rolling in dough. /snark

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