City leaders to discuss policy that requires most homeowners to pay for sidewalk repairs
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
City leaders will soon continue their discussion about a policy that generally requires property owners to pay for repairs to sidewalks bordering their homes and businesses unless their income qualifies them for city assistance.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive information about how other municipalities handle sidewalk repair, expansion of the city’s repair assistance program, and a plan for asking residents for input. The city’s sidewalk repair program has been controversial with some homeowners, and the information is being provided to the commission for discussion after some commissioners said they were open to reconsidering the program.
As part of the current sidewalk repair program, which began in 2019, the city inspects specific sidewalks within a certain area each year to identify tripping hazards. Property owners whose sidewalks are identified for repairs can sign on to have a city contractor complete the repairs, and lower-income homeowners and those with more than one adjacent sidewalk can apply for financial assistance from the city. The city is also financially responsible for damage that is the result of city street trees and city infrastructure, such as manholes.
In April, commissioners indicated they were open to discussing the policy and that they wanted to collect resident input on the topic. Though clear differences of opinion existed, commissioners directed city staff to develop a plan to gather public input regarding how the city funds sidewalk repairs. Mayor Courtney Shipley, who has pushed for years to have the city’s policy reconsidered, said at the time that how the city currently handles sidewalks is inequitable and that just because the city has not historically funded sidewalk repairs doesn’t mean that’s the right approach. Outside of the repair program, the city pays for some sidewalks as part of street projects and uses grants for sidewalks along school routes.
Shipley also noted the commission’s strategic plan prioritizes community engagement, and the city had never asked residents how they wanted sidewalk repairs handled.
As part of a memo to commissioners, city staff compiled a list of nine municipalities in Kansas, their sidewalk maintenance ordinances, and whether they have a sidewalk-assistance program available. Kansas state law generally stipulates that property owners are responsible for the sidewalk adjacent to their properties, but six of the nine municipalities provide funding for at least half of the costs. A seventh has historically had a cost-share program but it has not been funded in recent years. A summary of the information is as follows:
-Olathe: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner. No information provided regarding an assistance program.
-Overland Park: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner; however, the city has historically covered the cost of repairs and not assessed that cost to property owners.
– Unified Government of Wyandotte County: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner. The unified government has historically had a program that provides a 50/50 cost share, but it has not been funded since 2019.
-Manhattan: Sidewalk repair is complaint-driven and the responsibility of the property owner, with the exception of repairs that are the result of city street trees or infrastructure.
-Atchison: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner, but the city offers a 50/50 cost-sharing program.
-Garden City: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner, but the city has a program that provides up to $1,000 for residential and commercial properties to repair sidewalks and fill in sidewalk gaps.
-Topeka: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner, but the city has a 50/50 cost share program for residential properties of four units or fewer. The program can also be used for brick sidewalks, but owners do not receive more funding than they would if the sidewalk were cement.
-Emporia: Sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the property owner, but residential, multifamily and commercial properties can receive up to a 50/50 cost share. Commercial and multifamily properties receive a 50/50 cost share, while residential properties receive a 50/50 cost share with a limit of $400 for a single frontage or $700 for a corner lot with two frontages.
-Burlington: The city provides $10 per linear foot to residents replacing or repairing existing sidewalks, and the city council allocates $10,000 annually from the city/county infrastructure grant toward the program.
The memo also includes the income thresholds to qualify for financial assistance from the City of Lawrence, with an expansion of eligibility for this year. Income thresholds were increased for the 2022 program, and currently owner-occupied residential property with two or fewer units may qualify if the gross family income is less than $52,950 for an individual; $60,500 for a family of two; $68,050 for a family of three; and $75,600 for a family of four. In 2021 the threshold was $44,350 for an individual; $50,650 for a family of two; $57,000 for a family of three; and $63,300 for a family of four.
City staff also provides a draft of a Lawrence Listens survey to ask residents their opinion about how the city handles sidewalk repair. The draft includes a question that asks residents to rank the following five options for paying for sidewalk repair: city funded using existing resources (requires cuts to other city programs/projects), new property tax, new sales tax, benefit improvement district (property owner assessment by project area), and property owner funded with city cost-partnering (existing program). The draft survey also states that at the current funding rate, it will take another eight years for the city to complete sidewalk repairs, and asks if residents think funding should remain the same, increase to speed up repairs or decrease to slow down repairs.
The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.