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Village Council— No easy options for sidewalks

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If Village government maintains its current policy of spending $50,000 a year on sidewalk repair, it will take 90 years to replace all existing sidewalks. But if the Village pays to replace all village sidewalks to Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, standards at this point, the cost will be about $4.8 million. The policy of holding property owners responsible for the repair of sidewalks adjacent to their property, which was a previous Village policy, is the third option for a sidewalk strategy, although in the past this option resulted in little being done to maintain walkways.

There were no easy options presented by Assistant Village Manager John Yung in his report on local sidewalks to Village Council at its May 18 meeting. By the end of the discussion, Council members were leaning toward shared responsibility between Village government and property owners to address the continuing problem of subpar sidewalks.

“I think there will need to be some kind of partnership,” Council President Karen Wintrow said. “We’re not able to fund it all nor to put it all on property owners.”

The discussion was preliminary and no votes were taken. Council agreed to revisit the topic at its June 15 meeting.

The topic of how best to maintain village sidewalks has vexed Councils for some time. According to a history presented by Yung at the meeting, the Village began taking inventory of its sidewalk system in 2005 and developed a policy to notify property owners if their walks were in need of repair. However, the policy of holding property owners responsible was unpopular and rarely actually used.

In 2011, Council changed direction, with former Manager Mark Cundiff stating that sidewalks should be treated like streets since they’re a part of the transportation system. At that time, Council allocated $30,000 yearly, later increased to $50,000, for an ongoing program of repair. However, according to Yung, over the past few years, the needs of sidewalk maintenance have proved far greater than the funds provided. Part of the difficulty is the emergence of new ADA standards, and to be ADA compliant, sidewalks need to be a minimum of 5 feet wide rather than the Village requirement of 4 feet, and if narrower, the sidewalks must have turning islands of 5 feet wide every 200 feet. The ADA also requires appropriately designed curb ramps.

“The ADA was a game-changer,” Yung said.

Currently, the Village has a little more than 17 miles of sidewalks, with 164 intersections, many of which will require upgrading to meet ADA standards. The estimated cost of repair is about $12 per linear foot. Most village sidewalks adhere to the Village requirement that sidewalks be 4 feet wide.

Some recent grants have allowed select sidewalk upgrades, according to Yung. The Ohio Department of Transportation, or ODOT, will fund new sidewalks on some sections of Fairfield Pike and North Winter Street as part of the Safe Routes to School grant, which the Village won a few years ago. However, the sidewalk construction won’t take place until next year.

Yung also presented funding options. If Council decides the Village should accept total responsibility for funding sidewalks, a tax levy could be placed on the ballot. A levy that produces $1 million a year for five years would cost homeowners about $357 annually per $100,000 valuation of property, Yung said.

Other options include raising property taxes or income tax, issuing bonds in conjunction with a tax levy or income tax hike, or a “fee in lieu,” which requires developers and property owners to pay a fee to forgo sidewalk construction and the fee is then used toward furthering repair on other sidewalks.

In discussion following Yung’s presentation, Council member Marianne MacQueen asked about the possibility of using materials for sidewalks that are less expensive and more environmentally sustainable than concrete. Most alternative materials have some downsides, according to Yung, who said he will do more research into alternatives.

Council members also discussed the importance of workable sidewalks in an aging community like Yellow Springs.

Yellow Springs is not alone in its difficulty with maintaining sidewalks, according to Lori Askeland, who said the country overall is suffering from a lack of investment in infrastructure.

“It’s a national problem,” she said.

In other Council business:

• Council unanimously approved a new contract for Clerk of Council Judy Kintner. Kintner’s performance review “was exemplary,” according to Wintrow.

• Council unanimously approved supplemental appropriations for the second quarter of 2015. The total amount for the appropriations, which are expenses not covered in the budget process, was $109,600 for all funds. The expenses included $20,500 for expenses related to the art can project; $90,000 for the electric fund for new remote meter readers; and $11,500 for the emergency purchase of a new boiler for the Bryan Center.

• Council’s next meeting will be Monday, June 1, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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