Archive for Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Editorial: Sidewalk repair

The city wants to get more aggressive in having property owners fix sidewalks, but that may not be the best approach.

October 25, 2016


The city of Lawrence should be careful where it steps in trying to deal with sidewalk repairs throughout the city.

The city estimates there is approximately $6.1 million in needed sidewalk repairs in Lawrence, where a sidewalk ordinance requires property owners to maintain, repair and replace sections of sidewalk that abut their properties. At present, city enforcement of the ordinance amounts to responding to complaints and issuing notices asking residents to fix the damaged sidewalks. Compliance with those notices is about 60 percent, the city estimates.

City staff’s recommendation is to get more aggressive in enforcing the sidewalk ordinance, with more aggressive reviews of city sidewalks and better follow-up to make sure necessary repairs are completed.

“I think you’ll find that that 60 percent number will grow if (property owners) understand that we’re serious about following up and making sure that these improvements are made,” Markus said.

But is more aggressive enforcement really the right approach? Sidewalk repairs can be costly. The city estimates replacing a sidewalk that is 5 feet across costs about $6 per square foot. That means a sidewalk that is 40 feet long would cost well more than $1,000 to replace.

Property owners, landlords in particular, are likely to balk at the stepped-up enforcement. Many feel that sidewalks are a benefit to all city residents and that all should share the cost of repairs. Others simply can’t afford the repairs. City staff suggested using a deferral program in which the city would complete the sidewalk repairs and place a lien on the property that would be paid back if and when the property is sold. Such a deferral program seems risky and unworkable.

Perhaps the city could simplify its sidewalk program. First, not all sidewalks are equal. Some are more important to pedestrian use than others. Prioritizing repairs according to usage could help ensure the most important sidewalk repairs get made first.

Second, the complaint-driven program appears to be working. A better job of follow-up is necessary when notices are issued, but otherwise, using complaints to identify major sidewalk problems seems to be a reasonable approach.

Third, the city should consider creating and seeding a grant fund to assist low-income residents with sidewalk repairs.

Safe and well-maintained sidewalks are important to any city, but so too are the taxes and fees residents must pay. The city of Lawrence owes it to residents to be careful not to place undue and unnecessary financial burdens on residents to force sidewalk repairs unless those repairs are absolutely necessary.


Marilyn Hull 1 year, 8 months ago

"Second, the complaint-driven program appears to be working."

False. The 2015 ETC Institute Citizen Survey noted that less than half of residents are satisfied with the condition of sidewalks in their neighborhood. Only 32% are satisfied with the availability of safe routes for children to walk or bike to school.

The 2014 ETC Institute survey of Douglas County households revealed that 73% rated providing transportation alternatives to the car as important.

David Reynolds 1 year, 8 months ago

From a fairness perspective what about those areas of town where sidewalks only occur on one side if the street? Why should only one side of the street pay for repairs if it benefits both sides of the street.

Seems to me there are many disparities. Affordability included.

How about the city getting a city wide agreement with sidewslk installers for a repair cost. Currently bids to repair for small areas are exorbitant.

David Reynolds 1 year, 8 months ago

Additionally who pays the cost or whst is an acceptable repair when large trees and their roots have heaved the sidewalk. Who pays to remove the trees the city demanded we plant?

Jerome Bradley 1 year, 8 months ago

For trees and tree roots (if the tree is in the right of way) just call parks and rec forestry. That simple.

If its a tree on private property and those roots go into the right of way, that is the property owners responsibility.

Zoe Flowers 1 year, 8 months ago

A city tree caused my sidewalk to heave, they said it was my problem-fix it. They did come out and ground down the tree root but that was it, did not receive a dime to replace the sidewalk.

Richard Quinlan 1 year, 8 months ago

I do know for a fact the code has been enforced on commercial properties in west Lawrence. I worked for a large 100+ unit property and we regularly spent 75,000 a year in concrete maintenance , walks , curbs , drives . Its a cost of owning property . To expect the city to manage and or pay for this is very unrealistic. The problem is the city's lack of code enforcement over the past decades. Hey its Lawrence , just let it go. Now you have a large section of town crumbling due to rental neglect and the inability of owners to maintain thier properties. Did I hear correctly that 55% of Lawrence housing is rental property ? Make concrete a inspection item on rental units , half of your issues are taken care of right there.

Sam Crow 1 year, 8 months ago

Why is it Lawrence always wants to reinvent the wheel when an issue arises?

Why not find out what other similar nearby cities are doing and use it as a base ?

Oh wait. It has already been done on sidewalks. Two years ago.

Bonnie Uffman 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr. Crow, I would like to see the report to which you are referring but the link isn't working for me.

Sam Crow 1 year, 8 months ago

It downloads automatically as a PDF, from as a document dated June 2014. It is a memo to the city manager from assistant city manager McGuire. It is called Sidewalk Maintenence in Comparable Kansas Communities

Check your download file.

Jerome Bradley 1 year, 8 months ago

Or install the Adobe webpage plugin to load it in the web browser (most have it built in). Worked fine for me.

Zoe Flowers 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr. Quinlan, there is a big difference between a commercial business or landlord having to put in a sidewalk and a resident homeowner. They get to write it off as a tax deduction and the homeowner does not. Is that fair? We are providing sidewalks for the town's citizens but can't write it off. To top it off, most commercial businesses do not have to pay state income taxes now so it is a win win for them. How about the city of Lawrence gives a tax break on owner occupied property taxes of some sort when a sidewalk is replaced.

Richard Quinlan 1 year, 8 months ago

Its your property , you are responsible , and always have been for the upkeep of your property , save up and fix your sidewalk. What will you do when your driveway goes , whine about it to the city.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 1 year, 8 months ago

If Tax a abatement works for developers why not Home Owners? If the city would allow a property owner, that is affected by this, to file for a tax abatement equal to the cost of the repair, the city would not have to come up with the large sum of money stated above and the property owner could repair the sidewalk. If the cost is more than their annual property tax, the abatement is extended until the amount is reached. What could possibly be wrong with a solution such as this?

Michael Kort 1 year, 8 months ago

MR Quinnland is unfamiliar with the Landloards Favorite Phrase "

" Well, we have to raise your rent to pay for fixing this or that ( that was poorly cheaply or stupidly built to begin with ) because somebody has to pay for it and it is not going to be us........or you can move your you know what ! "

Even bed bugs that come from another unit in the building are becoming the costs of the tenant who didn't cause their infestation to begin with or to fail to regularly inspect for them as apartment management ..

Those poor unfortunate victimiced landlords . Let's all cry crocodile tears for them .

Richard Quinlan 1 year, 8 months ago

Responsible landlords have operating budgets to absorb annual maintenance costs. Slimy people landlords will never fix anything unless forced to. Note thereare many slimypeople in the landlord business.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 8 months ago

"Second, the complaint-driven program appears to be working. A better job of follow-up is necessary when notices are issued, but otherwise, using complaints to identify major sidewalk problems seems to be a reasonable approach."

The complaint driven program has not worked. That's why the city has to step up its efforts to improve the condition of the sidewalk network.

The Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program has some funds that are applicable.

City staff are prioritizing and working on an implementation plan to cover ten years. Even then, the sidewalk network probably will not be complete. And, It won't happen all at once.

If a property owner refuses to pay for their sidewalk, the city could bill the owner for repairs. If there is an injury, it would fall on the property owners insurance.

Tom Weiss 1 year, 8 months ago

"Many feel that sidewalks are a benefit to all city residents..." It is not a question of feeling! Sidewalks are a benefit to all city residents. Perhaps you have never used a sidewalk (very unlikely), because you drive everywhere, but you might someday choose to walk and no one can keep you from walking on their sidewalk. And in any case the sidewalk can benefit you, because It keeps pedestrians from walking in the street and interfering with traffic. Sidewalks also help to build community.

So, since sidewalks can be used by anyone, and provide benefits to everyone - even those who have not built a sidewalk on their own property - than everyone should share the cost of repairs. So change law and treat the building and maintenance of sidewalks the same way that you treat road repairs.

Michael Kort 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr.Weiss has it right .

It is a paper illusion that a sidewalk belongs to anyone personally . A sidewalk built on public property belongs to someone who's house it is infront of but not to the people across the street who's dog thinks the parkway between the sidewalk and the street is a message board ?

A pen stroke price of legislation that honestly is corrupt in its' sparing the cost to maintain, build, etc then , that means nothing, created by a committee who felt that "someone" had to pay for sidewalk repair "other than all of the beneficiaries", as in, the publication large .

This is a bad joke called a Law that descriminates cost wise and maintenance wise against some while creating a class of free loader users out of others who might not mind paying their fair share ?

Isn't that rather arbitrary ?

And why should some be ordered to shoveling snow for others across the street who will gladly excessive their freedom to go for an ill advised walk and fall infront of your house and sue you because they could, under this rediculous set of laws governing sidewalks .

Why should some be condemned under the law to shovel them ( while the sidewalk less have a bowl of soup in the warmth of their homes ) ? Sounds fair doesn't it ?

Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

There are some landlords that will not maintain residential living quarters much less the sidewalk. Some of these landlords are insiders. We as pedestrians do not need to walk through their slums but as pedestrians we must walk on the sidewalks.

I say let's use some existing tax dollars and dedicate a sum from that source to keep sidewalks in working order. I am suggesting dedication of 10% of the 1994-95 sales tax once and for all. This can be applied to maintenance and construction of shared use paths as well. This would help a great deal in the safe travel to school objective.

Lawrence MUST take care of existing resources. As a taxpayer I feel it is in the best interest of our fair city to maintain pedestrian travel. The cost of maintaining safe pedestrian/bikeways will never ever come close to what is spent maintaining fossil fuel travel. Let's just do it!

The fact is so many of us do make use of sidewalks not on our property so why not dedicate OUR tax dollars from an existing source?

Dedicating 10% of the 1994-95 sales tax leaves 90% to parks and rec which is not too shabby. This sales tax was never dedicated to any special endeavor. 10% of this money benefits taxpayers throughout Lawrence,Kansas. Worthwhile I say.

George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

Here we go again. Sidewalks need repairs. We seem to go through this drill every couple of years. Let us review the bidding.

About a third of our properties do not have sidewalks. Almost half are rental properties where the property owner splits the costs with the tax man (new sidewalks will likely be deductible). That leaves about 25 % of our property owners who would bear the full burden of this newest initiative. I wonder what percentage of them can afford it??

I wonder if we have standards for what constitutes a needed repair or will this whole thing become arbitrary. We already have too many requirements in this category.

We might also consider that a number of our sidewalks are over utility right of ways and not owned by the nearby property owner. Do we intend to try to demand that they replace sidewalks not even on their property?

Side walk are a common social investment and as such they should be paid for by all. A small bump up in on our property taxes dedicated to this need would seem appropriate. The less well-off will not be asked to bear the full burden of such costs as they would with the propose solution and it will not fall disproportionately on 25% of our population.

We obviously have an aggressive city manager who is being poorly served by those who should be reviewing with him where this issue has gone in the past. Oh, yes, state law as I understand it does not mandate we do it as proposed by the city.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 8 months ago

I agree that property taxes are a logical resource. There are a few, not many, communities elsewhere that use property taxes. If Lawrence used property taxes, what would we give up given the state's cap? What about liabilities? Who is responsible for injuries?

If there is enough community support, the city could figure out how to accomplish paying for sidewalks without burdening individual property owners. If there is not enough community support, we have to follow the current law.

Tom Weiss 1 year, 7 months ago

But all the current proposals will burden some individual property owners disproportionately. They will pay for repairs to sidewalks that are used not only by them, but primarily by others. So there should be community support for having the city take over the building and maintenance of sidewalks, because it is the right thing to do. What we need are city leaders who will take the initiative to bring this about.

Michael Kort 1 year, 7 months ago

Make those living in odd numbered addresses pay for it all one year and even numbered addresses pay for it all the next one .

With rental property don't bother the poor victum landlords .

Send the bill directly to the tenants address on a monthly basis until it is all paid off with interest .

If we are going to do crazy,...... then let's do crazy so at least we can pretend that it is being sanely done as a group !

Michelle Reynolds 1 year, 7 months ago

Does this ordinance also include all the old brick sidewalks? Do they have to go back brick? Like in old west Lawrence? That could be expensive!!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.