Cracked, crumbling and uneven sidewalks are not only a neighborhood eyesore — they are also a safety hazard. However, when a repair is required, property owners are often surprised to learn that they are responsible for the public pathways that are adjacent to their property. While this can vary depending on location or how a neighborhood homeowner association’s bylaws are crafted, the path to resolution rarely runs smooth. To help property owners shore up their sidewalks, some cities are stepping up to create programs that ensure the work gets done.
Enforcing old ordinances
Like most communities around the country, the city of Milford, Del., has an ordinance requiring property owners to maintain their sidewalks. However, no one bothered to enforce that ordinance until July 2018, when Milford launched its Sidewalk Repair Program and sent out a group of university students to assess the city pathways and determine walkability.
The backlash was immediate. As letters went out demanding property owners make the necessary repairs or allow the city to complete the work (and bill them later), residents expressed outrage that an antiquated code could suddenly break their budget. Fortunately, the city founders created a provision for that as well.
“Property owners who meet the low-income criteria may apply for financial assistance provided the city funding is available for the cost of sidewalk repair or replacement,” it reads.
While the repair work has been ongoing with Mitten Construction handling the initial program in August, the Milford city council recently awarded the Jacques Concrete Company a $380,760 contract to complete the remaining work throughout all four wards in areas that had not been covered in the first round.
According to city engineer James Puddicombe, a good portion of the money from the initial round of sidewalk work was paid back to the city, which allowed them to roll the funds over to subsequent phases. The funding combines $104,591 from the available sidewalk funds, along with $276,170 in realty transfer taxes. He expects that $289,000 of the current contract will be reimbursed to the city by property owners.
“The bids went out around June 19, 2022, and the bid opening occurred on July 22, 2022. The project calls for 180 days from start to completion though inclement weather may delay the start date,” said Milford City Manager Mark Whitfield.
Residents seeking a sidewalk discount may fill out an application and return it to the city’s customer service office along with supporting documentation.
Navigating the need
In August, the Elyria, Ohio, City Council Utilities, Safety and Environmental Committee voted unanimously to create a program that would provide interest-free, five-year loans (up to $5,000) to qualified homeowners so that they can make necessary sidewalk repairs. This is a voluntary program with priority given to residents who have received a notice of violation resulting from a complaint.
According to city engineer Kathryn McKillips, through this program, property owners continue to be responsible for the condition and maintenance of their sidewalks, but the program offers an affordable way to pay for it.
“Every year, we receive complaints from residents regarding bad sidewalks,” she said. “In some cases, the property owner of the bad sidewalk knows it needs to be replaced, but either doesn’t know how to go about getting the work completed or doesn’t have the funds needed to pay for the work all at once.”
To qualify for assistance, a property owner needs to agree to have the cost of the work placed on their tax duplicate as a special assessment. The program is open to all residential owner-occupied properties.
McKillips said the city council has agreed to provide $50,000 for the first year and, depending on the interest from the public, additional funds will be requested in future years. The goal is to have the repayments through special assessments fund the program for years to come.
“Because the program is so new, we have a list of seven property owners wanting to participate,” McKillips said. “(We’ll know how successful the program is) once we get the work completed and get feedback from the participants. We’ll know a lot more once we get through one round of requests.”