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Council eyes sidewalk levy

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What’s the best way for a town that promotes walkability to maintain its sidewalks? Is it fair to make homeowners pay for upkeep when they may not receive financial benefit from their investment? But in a time of financial belt-tightening, how can Village government foot the whole bill?
These questions landed on Village Council’s table again at Council’s Feb. 2 meeting, in a continuing discussion on sidewalk maintenance. The topic was discussion only, and Council will revisit it on March 2.

At the same meeting, Council prioritized sidewalk repair as one of its five top goals for 2015 (A more detailed look at 2015 goals will be in next week’s News.)

Sidewalk maintenance has bedeviled many previous Councils, so that this one ended up with many walks needing repair. For years local homeowners were held responsible for upkeep, but Councils were loathe to enforce this unpopular local law, with the result that many repairs went undone. A few years ago Council, having emphasized walkability as a goal, decided that Village government should view the sidewalks as an extension of the local transportation system, and pay for repairs.
However, that strategy has run up against the reality of a Village general fund deficit. And the Village, in taking on the whole sidewalk cost, is out of the mainstream of municipal practices, according to Manager Patti Bates.

“In most places, homeowners are responsible for sidewalks and the town is responsible for street trees,” Bates said.

At Council’s last meeting, Bates identified several options for addressing the issue: continuing the Village’s current practice of earmarking about $50,000 yearly for sidewalk repair, a practice that doesn’t keep up with the need for repair; reverting to the previous practice of making homeowners responsible; or putting a special levy on the ballot for sidewalks.

If the Village identifies walkability as a priority, then a levy makes sense, according to Council member Marianne MacQueen, because a levy would be a way to measure villagers’ support for that priority.

However, it’s not clear how much funding the Village needs to address the problem, according to Bates. A sidewalk inventory performed several years ago, which called for a 13-year effort that would cost $600,000 to $725,000, is considered out of date by Streets and Parks Superintendent Jason Hamby, Bates said. Hamby will do an updated inventory to present to Council at its March 2 meeting.

In the meantime, Council members have asked villagers to weigh in on the issue.

If Council chooses to go the route of a sidewalk levy, it will likely put it on the ballot at the same time as the renewal of the current property tax levy, according to Council President Karen Wintrow. In an initial discussion on the timeline for renewing the property tax levy, which provides about $730,000 yearly for the general fund, Council members identified May 2016 as the most likely time. The five-year levy was passed for the second time in 2011; it expires at the end of 2016. While Bates and Finance Director Melissa Vanzant recommended that the property tax levy go on the ballot in November of this year for reasons of budget continuity, Council members said that would be too soon, especially given that a levy committee needs to be seated. Council also needs to decide if the sidewalk issue should be a separate levy, or perhaps be included in the property tax levy, Wintrow said.

Council will revisit the levy timeline question soon, and hear from Hamby regarding the total cost of sidewalk repairs on March 2.

After its regular meeting, Council held an executive session to discuss a potential or pending lawsuit.

Other items on Council’s Feb. 2 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.


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