Infrastructure & Services

Sidewalk law to be enforced

At their Feb. 19 meeting, Yellow Springs Village Council members agreed to start enforcing the Village’s sidewalk ordinance this summer by replacing substandard sidewalks along the east side of Xenia Avenue between Herman Street and downtown. The Xenia Avenue project is only the first step of an effort to improve sidewalks village-wide that may extend over several years, Council members said.

While state law and the Village municipal code require that adjacent property owners keep sidewalks in good repair and free from obstructions, this ordinance has not been enforced in Yellow Springs for some time.

However, this Council has requested that the sidewalk ordinance be enforced in order to address the Village goal of improving walkability in town. Also, the Yellow Springs Accessibility Committee has repeatedly brought to Council its concern over the poor condition of sidewalks between the Friends Care Community and downtown, which makes safe travel downtown difficult for wheelchair-bound seniors. Consequently, Council on Feb. 19 made that segment its first priority.

At Council’s request, Village Manager Eric Swansen on Feb. 19 presented more detailed information about the potential costs to property owners for sidewalk replacement. A typical segment of sidewalk, 4-feet wide by 5-feet long, would cost the property owner approximately $175 to $195 to replace if the Village does the work, according to Swansen, who said the property owners can probably save money if they hire their own contractor to do the work.

“People can get the work done more cheaply by themselves, and we want to make it easy for them to do so,” he said.

The Village plans to assess the condition of Xenia Avenue sidewalks this spring, and to contact property owners if repairs or replacement are needed. The property owners will have up to 60 days to make the correction or request that the Village do so. According to the Village ordinance enforcement process, if property owners do not respond, the Village will make the repairs and then send the bill to the property owner; if the property owner does not pay the bill, the amount would be added to property taxes.

Swansen recommended that Council revise its past practice of collecting from noncomplying property owners by allowing the option of placing a lien on property for the amount due. The lien would require that the Village pay the repair amount up front, and that amount would be satisfied once the property is sold or refinanced. According to Swansen, this approach would alleviate potential financial hardship on property owners.

While Council members originally considered approaching the sidewalk project on all streets simultaneously, they agreed that the most traveled sections should be repaired first. Council members agreed to start on the Xenia Avenue sidewalks.

“Doing the whole town at once would be a huge project,” Council President Judith Hempfling said. “Just getting started would be a big step forward.”

Swansen will bring to Council’s March 17 meeting revisions to the Village’s sidewalk repair process.

In other Council business:

• Swansen presented more information on the Village 2008 general fund budget. The general fund is the main fund that provides resources for Village services, including police, parks and recreation, streets and Village personnel. Utilities are funded by separate funds.

Council has not yet adopted this year’s budget; it has until April 1 to do so, according to state law. Council will hold the first reading of the budget at its next meeting, March 19, and the second reading on March 31.

Council requested the additional budget information following its special budget/goal session on Feb. 16, during which Swansen had presented information on 2008 operational needs. While Council had planned at that meeting to commit money from its 2007 one-time windfall of $255,000 to Village goals, Swansen presented a list of 2008 one-time needs that Council members had not seen before. Consequently, they asked for more information on 2008 budget needs before committing money to Village goals. The Village also has a 2007 budget surplus of several hundred thousand dollars, so that the Village has at least $420,000 that could be used on one-time needs.

While Swansen did not address the 2008 operational needs on Feb. 19, he presented general information regarding the 2008 general fund. The overall health of the general fund is complicated by last year’s five-year property tax levy, which provides about $884,000 a year for five years, according to Swansen. While that is additional revenue, it is revenue promised for specific projects, so Swansen separated those projects out in order to balance the remaining general fund budget.

Without the levy money, the operating revenues are $2,115,790. At the Feb. 16 meeting, Swansen stated that if Council in 2008 fills several positions that were vacant last year, including that of Village planner, the 2008 operational costs would be $2,280,081. If those positions were not filled, the 2008 operating costs are $2,170,326. Thus, the general fund’s operating costs will create a $54,635 deficit if the positions are not filled, and a $165,000 deficit if they are.

The Village has a few options to balance the general fund budget, according to Swansen, including finding new revenues, such as motel and admissions taxes or funding early retirement incentives from the one-time funds rather than from the operating budget. In 2008, the early retirement incentive, which the Village offered in 2006 to cut costs, will cost the Village about $90,300, but after 2008 most of the early retirement obligations will be met. Funding the early retirement incentive from one-time revenues rather than operating costs will leave a budget surplus of $53,590 with no staffing changes, Swansen said.

Council approved the option of balancing the 2008 budget by paying the early retirement incentive costs from the one-time revenues.

• Villager Ted Donnell presented information on Regenesis, a visioning and consulting firm.

About 10 villagers have been meeting for several months to discuss issues related to Village planning, and consider Regenesis a process which could greatly benefit the village, he said. Especially, he feels excited by the Regenesis holistic approach and by its emphasis on both the physical environment and human culture.

“Regenesis understands that the environment and human beings are both living organisms that work together to affect change,” he said.

Donnell stated that at this point the group is asking Council to listen to its efforts, and that it would return at a later time to seek an endorsement.

Other villagers expressed support for Regenesis, including Marianne MacQueen, who stated that the “front end, which is grounded in the natural world and history, is important and useful. I think there is a value in that that could resonate with people here.”

MacQueen also stated that she would like to see more clarity in terms of the exact processes used by Regenesis.

However, that lack of a uniform approach is critical to the flexibility of Regenesis, Donnell said.

“It doesn’t have a formula,” he said. “Every place is different. We don’t have a process yet.”

Council encouraged villagers to gather more information regarding Regenesis by visiting its Web site at www.regenesisgroup.com. Council will revisit the topic at its next meeting on March 19.

• Council Vice President Karen Wintrow presented a process for evaluating the Village Manager that was developed by herself and Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden. The Village has previously had no set process to date for this evaluation, she said.

The process includes several segments, including the manager’s self-evaluation and summaries by various Village departments. Council also seeks written statements from villagers who would like to comment on the Village manager’s performance. Council will address the manager evaluation during its Council retreat on March 15.

• Council approved the first reading of an ordinance for supplemental appropriations to the 2008 temporary budget, as an emergency measure.

• Council plans to hold its annual retreat on Saturday, March 15, in order to discuss process and communication, according to Wintrow and Hempfling. While the meeting will be open to the public, Council requests that villagers do not attend so that they can have more privacy for discussing these issues.

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