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Village Council — Sidewalk policy to change

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Recently Village Council took a first step toward changing Village policy on sidewalk maintenance, shifting from charging home-owners for sidewalk repairs to treating sidewalks similarly to streets, as part of the Village budget.

At their Oct. 4 meeting, Council members  unanimously approved a motion to ask Village staff to create legislation that revises current policy. Council will probably vote on the legislation at its Oct. 18 meeting. The vote was 4–0, with John Booth absent.

“I believe the Village should foot the bill and make sidewalks part of the overall transportation budget,” said Council member Rick Walkey. “Sidewalks are an important part of our transportation network.”

Village Manager Mark Cundiff recommended that Council make the change, after researching sidewalk policy in 29 other Ohio municipalities. While the majority of towns had a policy of charging the homeowner for repairs, a growing number are moving toward shifting the financial responsibility to the municipality as part of enhancing community walkability, he said.

“I think this community wants to be walkable and prides itself on being walkable, and that it wants to be welcoming to disabled people,” he said. “If that’s the case, then we should consider changing this policy.”

Of four alternative approaches to sidewalk maintainence — charging the homeowner full cost of repairs; splitting the repair cost between the Village and the homeowner; having the Village pay the full cost; or having no sidewalk program — Cundiff identified the third option, with the Village bearing the cost, as the most efficient because it requires less paperwork.

Supporters of current sidewalk policy have said that homeowners should bear the cost, since improved sidewalks raises property values. Opponents have stated that the policy is unfair since it puts a financial burden on some villagers and not others.

This Village Council had begun to address the sidewalk issue with a plan to  charge homeowners for sidewalk repairs on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue between Friends Care Community and downtown, a route frequently used by wheelchair users. Council moved ahead after hearing from the Village Accessibility Committee about the need for repairs in order to make sidewalks navigable for disabled persons. Many sidewalks are in need of repair since several past Councils have opted not to address the issue due to its contentiousness in the community.

Villager Connie Crockett, who lives on Xenia Avenue, urged Council to change the current policy, since the price tag of sidewalk repair is “a lot to ask residents suddenly and all at once,” she said. Crockett said she had on her own repaired her sidewalks 10 years ago, but that trees planted by the Tree Committee have caused heaving in the walks, which she would have to pay for again under current policy.

“I feel this is an undue burden as a home-owner who has sought to have good sidewalks,” Crockett said.

All Council members present agreed, although Karen Wintrow expressed concern about “how to add this into a budget that’s already strained.”

However, the money for sidewalk repair has already been allotted in this year’s Village budget, since the Village needed to cover the costs before charging home-owners for the Xenia Avenue repairs, Cundiff said.

In a report to Council, Cundiff identified the amount needed to repair all Village sidewalks currently in need of repair to be around $660,000 to $725,000. He identified four options for moving ahead, including a $30,000 annual allocation that would finish the job in 22 years; a $50,000 annual allocation that would repair the walks in 13 years; and $66,000 annually to repair the walks in 10 years.

The Village has spent considerably more than those amounts on a comprehensive program of street repairs in recent years, Cundiff said in response to a question. In the first year after the Village property tax levy passed, the Village spent about $600,000 on streets, followed by $400,000 yearly for two years. Because the most costly street repairs had been made, the annual costs for streets then dropped to about $200,000 in recent years, according to Village Planner Ed Amrhein.

“We will be spending less on street repairs as we come closer to a 100 percent maintenance position,” Amrhein said.

Council members agreed that it’s time for the Village to focus on repairing sidewalks for walkability.

“Let’s go forward and do the best that we can,” Council President Judith Hempfling said.

Council members agreed they would not move ahead with sending out letters to Xenia Avenue property owners with assessments for sidewalk repairs.

In other Council business:

• Cundiff announced that the Village will begin its annual fall hydrant flushing on Monday, Oct. 18, and villagers can expect brown water. The work will begin in the south end of town and work north, he said.

• Council requested that Village staff redesign the Northern Gateway project to bring local costs down. The project would provide more parking on Village-owned land on Cemetery Street and also create a bike spur from the parking lot to the bikepath.

On the books for several years, the Northern Gateway project originally was to link the bikepath with a bikepath on 343 to Clifton, a plan that the state has since shelved. The Village was awarded a $275,000 state grant for its part of the project, and the grant would have to be returned if the project is not pursued. However, Council members stated that the current Council match of about $120,000 is too much.

• Council members continued their revisions of Council’s overarching principles for 2011, identifying projects that have been completed.

• Council’s next meeting is Monday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers at the Bryan Community Center.

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