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City to begin enforcing ordinance that will bill property owners for sidewalk repairs

Lawrence resident Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his way south along the 900 block of Rhode Island Street past a section of crumbling sidewalk on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

Lawrence resident Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his way south along the 900 block of Rhode Island Street past a section of crumbling sidewalk on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

March 6, 2018


Millions of dollars in backlogged repairs to Lawrence sidewalks could now be added to the tax bills of Lawrence property owners.

At their meeting Tuesday, city commissioners directed city staff to proceed with an administrative policy that details how the city will systematically enforce its existing ordinance that requires property owners to repair hazardous sidewalks adjacent to their properties. If property owners fail to make the repairs within a certain time frame, the city will make the repairs and could add the cost to residents' property tax bills.

The policy includes a financial assistance program, and one question raised has been how much money the city will provide toward that program. Mayor Stuart Boley said he thinks the city needs to fully fund the program for those who qualify.

“I’m willing to go into the budget and say we need to fund not just the (Americans with Disabilities Act-mandated) ramps and the city responsibilities, but also the cost share and the assistance,” Boley said.

As currently written, the policy leaves open the possibility of financial assistance for residents who own and occupy their homes and are low-income or have more than one adjacent sidewalk, but it does not guarantee it. The policy states that the commission “may” fund such assistance “if funding is available.” It also notes that assistance would be first come, first served.

City staff has divided the city into eight districts and plans to address one per year. Because of its lower density and relatively newer sidewalks, the city will begin with a district in northwest Lawrence. The city will begin sending repair notices to property owners next year, and will come back to the commission to refine the policy following the completion of the first cycle.

Several local groups, including the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, have said that sidewalks are public infrastructure and called for the city to take on responsibility for sidewalk repairs or come up with a way to fund repairs that spreads the cost equally among residents. LAN representative Candice Davis told the commission that 14 neighborhoods voted in favor of LAN’s statement against the policy.

Only one commissioner, Jennifer Ananda, explicitly said she thought the city should have a referendum to ask voters whether the city should take on financial responsibility for sidewalks citywide.

Although other commissioners did not call for a vote now, some said they don’t disagree with the notion that sidewalks are public infrastructure. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she thinks the policy is “leading there,” and that the commission could be having a different conversation in five years.

“As a community and as a nation we are re-evaluating how we view transportation,” Larsen said. “Is this a perfect step toward that? No, but it’s a step in the right direction, I believe. I would love to just have this paid for by the city because I agree it’s infrastructure, but we’ve got to start, and I believe this is a decent start.”

After decades of not fully enforcing the ordinance, the city estimates there are $6.6 million in sidewalk repairs that are the responsibility of private property owners under the city’s standing ordinance. Under the new policy, the city will annually bid out sidewalk repairs for that year’s district and would allow property owners to make use of the contractor and price established by the bid. Funding levels for the financial assistance program would be decided annually as part of the budget process.

For those who don’t comply with repair notices within 60 days, city staff will prepare a resolution for the commission to condemn the sidewalks. The city will then make the necessary repairs and bill the property owner. If the property owner doesn’t pay the bill outright within 30 days, it will be added to property tax bills and can be paid in four annual installments.

In other business, the commission:

• Voted to expand the city’s ongoing affordable housing study to include a "spending framework.” Development of the framework will add $2,600 to the cost of the study and will develop specific funding allocations based on the city’s affordable housing needs.

• Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Johnson County Commission to help fund the K-10 Connector bus service for the next four years. Beginning this year, the agreement increases local funding for the service from $120,000 to $135,000 per year and up to $155,000 from 2019 through 2021.


Dawn Shew 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Let me try to put up a gate restricting access to the sidewalk and let's see how fast it becomes the city's property. I don't have the ability to restrict who uses it (which is mostly not me), or how it is used. I don't gain anything from having it other than random dog poop that people leave when they walk their dogs. My neighbor's tree has roots that undercut my section of sidewalk-- can I force him to cut down his tree? Can I send him a bill once his tree destroys the sidewalk, and I end up having to pay for it? Can I opt out of having the sidewalk and tear it down?

This is short-sighted to say the least, and makes no sense at all. I understand the need to maintain the sidewalk in that I shovel snow from it. I do this because it is the neighborly thing to do. But there is no way I should be shouldering the financial burden of a public service, unless that is going to be spread across my neighborhood of folks who utilize that service.

RJ Johnson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

It's not different the Street in front of your house except the City collects from you in personal property ax to repair and maintain the street. Either way you are going to pay for it!!

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 2 weeks ago

It's very different. The city collects taxes from everyone on the street to pay for maintenance and repairs. The whole block doesn't pitch in to pay for sidewalk repairs.

Melinda Henderson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

"Only one commissioner, Jennifer Ananda, explicitly said she thought the city should have a referendum to ask voters whether the city should take on financial responsibility for sidewalks citywide."

I wouldn't be surprised to see a citizen sponsored ballot initiative in next years local election. You want in on that campaign, Dawn?

Dawn Shew 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Also... if it's my responsibility to repair, can I just go up to Menards and buy some Quikcrete? Is this really something we want to encourage, an army of poorly trained civil engineering experimenters?

RJ Johnson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Of course you can repair it yourself. Just remember though if not done properly and someone is injured by a fall or something you are liable!!

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 2 weeks ago

That's really a moot point. If someone is injured by a fall from anything on your property, you're liable. Even if they are breaking into your house.

Kevin Anderson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Personally, I do not use the 100 foot sidewalk in front of my house. I live on a corner lot. My driveway to my garage is on the other side of the corner. Why should I have to pay to replace or fit it? Thankfully, it does not currently require any work. If I am expected to pay for repairs, then I should also have the choice to replace the sidewalk with grass, and make it part of my yard. I already have to shovel the sidewalk so that children can catch the school bus (I don't have children). If they pass this ordinance, I guess it is time to sell my house, and buy a lot without a sidewalk. Maybe in Eudora or Desoto.

Kathleen Christian 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I should think that property taxes would cover this and where the city would put a portion of this into a fund that covers sidewalk repair instead of putting more burden on the homeowners. Isn't this what "public" service is about? The City takes charge of the repairs and pays for it out of this fund that the homeowners have already paid into through their property tax. Otherwise I question as to where the property tax money goes? What services does it cover the for the citizens of this town? Shouldn't sidewalks be part of that?

RJ Johnson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Nope, State law says it is the property owners responsibility.

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, if it's the law, then it must be infallible. We never find that old laws are wrong or attempt to change them for any reason.

Paul Jones 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The JW didn't include all the information provided at the meeting last night.

Sidewalk repairs by owner occupants will have four years to pay for the repair if the city does it on their taxes. There will also be assistance for low income owners and they will also split the cost if the owner lives on a corner lot with sidewalks on the front and side of their property.

It sounds like the city already takes responsibility for fixing damage done by city trees.

Mr Boley accurately noted that most rental property owners have a repair funds (at least if they operate like a business) and choose not to use them to repair sidewalks. Given the fact they can write off these repairs off on their taxes there is no reason why enforcement doesn't begin immediately on investment rental properties regardless of the zone they fall into.

The fact is the sidewalks in this town are horrible because of years of neglect and this program sounds like a good start to take care of the problem.

Tom Weiss 2 months, 2 weeks ago

In the article, it is reported that Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she thinks the policy is “leading there,” [ to a discussion about sidewalks being public infrastructure] and that the commission could be having a different conversation in five years. Why not now? All the commissioners seem to agree that sidewalks are public infrastructure; and the public surely thinks so too. How could it be otherwise? No one needs, and probably doesn't want, a sidewalk on their property. They want sidewalks on other people's property so that they can be used to walk elsewhere. Anyone can use them, and you don't know who will or has used them, unless you put up some sort of monitoring system. So they are a public good and should be funded by the general public, not by individual property owners who happen to have a sidewalk on their property. What more is there to discuss? I ask again, why wait 5 years? By the way, I don't have a sidewalk on my property so this is not a self-serving argument

Cathy Kreighbaum Williams 2 months, 1 week ago

As a home owner why am I being forced to pay for sidewalk repairs in my neighborhood when the builder of these homes damaged and broke the sidewalks while building these new homes. I have watched this builder for years pour the sidewalks then begin the construction of the home and having the huge machines driving over the sidewalks all day long breaking them, cracking them and then the builder does not re-pour the sidewalks or repair them. Why is it that the builders are not responsible for repairing the sidewalks that they damaged? Why should I have to pay for the repairs? Within 3 years of purchasing our new home our driveway began to deteriorate. I called the City of Lawrence Inspector to come out and take a look at our sidewalks and driveways and he did and then told me that this certain builder was known for using the cheapest materials for the sidewalks and the driveways and inside the homes as well. Inspector stated there was nothing they could do as they weren't required to inspect either 10 years ago. On our street alone almost all the driveways are down to just gravel onto the street. Sidewalks around our area are broken, missing chunks, cracked. New homes built in last 3 years running in the $393,000 range the sidewalks were cracked as they were building them and builder never replaced. Why isn't the builder being held responsible?

Would also like to know why the business's of Lawrence parking lots aren't repairing these lots? Almost every parking lot in Lawrence is in bad shape. The holes are deep enough to damage a vehicle, or break an ankle if you happen to step in one in the dark. As consumers we have to park in these lots to shop and you rarely see an repairs being done on them. Why isn't the City of Lawrence holding these business's responsible for repairs?

Catherine Kreighbam Williams

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