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Village Council — Sidewalk solution is elusive

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At its March 2 meeting, Village Council heard a presentation from Superintendent of Streets and Parks Jason Hamby on how best to address the current problem of subpar sidewalks.

According to Hamby, the best path is to replace all Village sidewalks with new ones.

“Only fixng the “troubled areas” is installing a Band-Aid on an artery. It may slow claims of trips and falls, but it simply won’t suffice in the years ahead,” Hamby wrote in his report.

The topic was discussion only, and part of an ongoing conversation regarding local sidewalks. Council had requested that Hamby collect information regarding the scope of the sidewalk problem.

The issue has repeatedly appeared on Council’s table because the current funding to maintain sidewalks isn’t doing the job, Hamby said. While property owners were previously held responsible for repairing sidewalks in front of their property, several years ago Council chose to make the Village responsible for repair costs, and allocated $50,000 yearly for the job.

However, according to Hamby, “$50,000 a year isn’t getting us much of anywhere.”

Hamby represented two options in his report, replacing all sidewalks with new ones or only repairing sidewalks currently subpar. The Village has 17.2 miles of sidewalks within its boundaries, and the cost of replacing current sidewalks with new sidewalks would be about $2.4 million, according to Hamby‘s report. Should the Village choose only to fix those sidewalks currently in bad repair, the cost would be about $714 ,000, he said.

Council has discussed the possibility of putting on the ballot a new levy specifically for sidewalk maintenance, and Hamby offered estimates of the size of levy needed. Should the Village decide to replace all sidewalks, the levy would need to bring in about $372,500 a year, and should the Village opt to only repair sidewalks currently damaged, the Village would need the levy to bring in  $142,800 a year.

Making the property owner responsible for sidewalk repairs is the practice of most municipalities, he said, and makes sense because the homeowner benefits from sidewalk maintenance.

Council asked that Finance Director Melissa Vanzant research the millage needed for the levies considered, and also that Hamby do more research on federal requirements for sidewalk width. Council will revisit the discussion at an upcoming meeting, probably early in April.

In other Council business:

• Council members heard from two members of a Village commission and several villagers who objected to new guidelines regarding commission members’ roles and responsibilities.

The topic was a continuation of an ongoing discussion on a new document for members of Village commissions and boards, which they will be asked to sign. The document was drafted by Council members Brian Housh and Marianne MacQueen, in response to a perceived need of some commission members to understand their responsibilities, especially when commissions were just starting up. After hearing from those unhappy with the new requirements, Council members agreed to take the most problematic language out of the document and send it back to the commissions for review.

“I’m surprised this is so difficult,” Housh said.

The document specifies that commission members attend meetings regularly, work respectfully with other members, follow an agreed-upon meeting process, refrain from activities that could involve a conflict of interest, understand Ohio Sunshine laws and represent the Village government “in a respectful, responsible, ethical and professional manner to the public, even when disagreeing with a particular Council decision or action by Village staff.”

The above statement (in quote marks) had raised objections at a recent Human Relations Commission meeting, according to HRC member Chrissy Cruz, who said she is not willing to sign the document due to the vagueness of the language.

“The language is too subjective. Who is to judge?” Cruz asked, stating that the guidelines seem like a tool that could be used to remove commission members from the boards.

Steve McQueen, also an HRC member, agreed with Cruz that he’s uncomfortable with the document’s vague language and the lack of clarity regarding who enforces the document.

According to Dan Reyes, villagers he knows who serve on commissions are not in favor of the new guidelines. The guidelines seem an attempt to control the commission volunteers that might be unnecessary, he said.

“I wonder what the rationale is for putting this forward,” Reyes said. “It seems to be fixing something that doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Council member Lori Askeland agreed that she also found the language in question problematic in its vagueness.

However, the purpose of the guideline isn’t to control commission members or have a tool to remove them, but just to open up conversations regarding appropriate behavior, Housh said.

Also, he said, “We need to create in the commissions a safe environment.”

Council members agreed to send the document back to commission members for review without the offending language. Instead, the commission members will be asked to review a statement of suggested values for those performing public service.

• Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that increases fees for Village water 10 percent, beginning in April. The rate hike is necessary due to the capital needs of the Village water system, according to Village Manager Patti Bates, who said that while a 6 percent increase would allow the fund to break even at the end of the year, the higher increase allows the fund to build up reserves. The capital needs include the construction of a new water plant and the loop completion project, which will install new water lines in an area around Antioch College and the south end of town that will improve fire flow and water distribution.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that authorizes Manager Bates to enter into a contract with GM Pipeline for the loop completion project, at a cost of $764,053.

• Council unanimously passed the first reading of a resolution that vacates an alley that runs east from Livermore Street between Marshall and E. College streets, at the request of Antioch College.

• Several members of the Cable Access Panel, or CAP, gave that group’s annual report. The group seeks new local programming and new volunteers, according to Paul Abendroth.

• Council will hold its annual retreat on Tuesday, March 31.

• Council acknowledged recent updates in Council Chambers, including a new dais, which is a raised platform for seating. The change allows the room to be used for Mayor’s Court more easily, according to Wintrow. Upgrades in audio equipment will be coming soon.

• Council’s next meeting is Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m.

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