Lawrence City Commission to discuss city takeover of sidewalk maintenance once initial repairs are made by property owners

photo by: City of Lawrence

A photo from the City of Lawrence website shows an example of a sidewalk in need of repair.

Lawrence city leaders will soon discuss whether the city should take responsibility for maintenance of sidewalks once they are repaired to a certain standard.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive a report on potential costs of taking over sidewalk maintenance after initial repairs are complete and direct city staff on any potential actions it would like to pursue.

The city adopted a policy in 2018 to administer its longstanding sidewalk repair ordinance. The ordinance had been on the books for decades but had not been strongly enforced, which resulted in widespread deterioration of sidewalks. The ordinance generally requires all property owners — businesses, landlords and homeowners — to pay to repair the sidewalks running along their properties. Under the 2018 policy, low-income homeowners and those with more than one sidewalk along their property can qualify for financial assistance from the city.

The city’s policy to enforce the ordinance has been unpopular with some homeowners, who say the city should take care of sidewalk maintenance in the same way it takes care of streets or other shared infrastructure. Commissioner Courtney Shipley has voiced support for the city taking over all sidewalk maintenance, but there hasn’t been enough interest from the rest of the commission for it to gain traction. Tuesday’s discussion will focus on the city taking over responsibility for sidewalks after they have gone through the city’s new inspection and repair program.

Information that will be provided to the commission for discussion includes potential costs of an eventual takeover and a review of how other cities handle sidewalk maintenance.

Specifically, the city states that in order to keep sidewalks functional for 30 years, the best practice is to spend 4% of the total asset value of the sidewalks on repairs each year. If Lawrence were to fully replace 4% of its sidewalks each year, it would cost about $3.7 million annually, according to a city staff memo to the commission. However, spot repairs would cost less, and the program could begin small and expand later on.

Regarding what a city sidewalk maintenance program might look like, the memo states the program would probably be limited in scope at the beginning — complaint driven and focused on high-traffic routes. At first it would use an outside contractor, and it would then grow into a full-time city crew. Initial setup of a city crew is estimated to cost $1.1 million for the first year and about $750,000 in subsequent years.

Those figures would cover only 1.9 miles of sidewalk with spot repairs annually, meaning they would not pay for continuous segments of fully reconstructed sidewalks. The memo states the program could be scaled up should the city want to complete more repairs annually.

The report also includes a list of how nine other communities in Kansas handle sidewalk repairs. Seven other cities consider sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of the adjacent property owners, but some of them, like Lawrence, share the cost of repairs in some cases. In two of those cities, Topeka and Emporia, the city pays half of the cost of repairs. On the other hand, there are two cities on the list, Shawnee and Lenexa, where the city is completely responsible for sidewalk maintenance. Shawnee spends $550,000 a year on its repair program, and Lenexa spends $300,000 a year.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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