Friday, August 29, 2014

Chardon City Sidewalk Infill Assessment Reviewed
July 3, 2014 by Ann Wishart | No Comments

Chardon City Council grabbed the sidewalk infill issue by the scruff of the neck last Wednesday and shook it until an ordinance fell out.The result…

Chardon City Council grabbed the sidewalk infill issue by the scruff of the neck last Wednesday and shook it until an ordinance fell out.

The result might be an annual property tax payment of about $36.52 per year for owners of an average home (valued at $160,500), yielding about $100,000 annually to support the program.

The crux of the legislation — which will build on the sidewalk maintenance program started this year (see city website www.chardon.cc) –is the city will begin enforcing an existing law that requires property owners to install sidewalks per city specifications.

For an hour and a half during last week’s special meeting, council and administrators kicked around various aspects of the long-term project to install sidewalks throughout the city.

About 45 percent of the city streets have sidewalks along them, said Mayor Phil King.

He asked council to choose one of three solutions to the problem so, if they choose to begin assessing property owners for sidewalk infill projects, council can hear the first reading of the ordinance in July.

If passed, the legislation would take effect in September, but property owners would have plenty of time to have their sidewalks installed, council was assured.

Sidewalk Shortage

A map of the city showing the streets in need of sidewalks was discussed.

“There’s an awful lot of red on this map,” said City Manager Randy Sharpe, referring to those streets shown without sidewalks.

The city needs to have contiguous sidewalks everywhere to improve its walk-ability, he said.

Three city staff-generated options were laid out by City Services Director Paul Hornyak, ranging from placing the cost of the entire sidewalk maintenance program on the city, which would require about $200,000 per year in assessments, to continuing the program as it exists.

The third option would require property owners to bear the full cost of installing sidewalks, Hornyak said.

The middle ground would be to continue the eight-year inspection rotation and create an assessment to property owners that will, after the eight-year cycle, yield funds for the repair and maintenance of sidewalks along privately-owned properties, he said.

Enforcing the Law

Councilman John Mallen said he is concerned some property owners will not be able to afford to install sidewalks along their properties. As a round figure, he estimated a cost of $8,600 for sidewalk installation along the average South Street property.

“I can’t get there from here — $8,600 is significant money,” Mallen said.

Some people who moved there years ago never expected to have to install their own sidewalks, he said.

“By statute, they’re required to do it,” King said. “If we’re not going to enforce it, let’s get rid of the ordinance.”

Mallen suggested letting voters decide.

“I think this is something people should be voting on,” he said. “I’d be surprised if it passed.”

King asked if council should ask the voters if the city should enforce an ordinance already on the books. He also said the city could get in a bind like it did over the vote to replace Heritage House.

“I don’t think it’s a fair issue to take to the voters,” King said.

Councilman Jeff Smock said the middle option will dedicate funds to sidewalk repairs and infill, a suggestion he had made to council years ago.

“Property owners need to install sidewalks where they do not exist and bring existing sidewalks up to (city) standards,” he said, adding there is never enough excess money in city coffers to do the job.

Property owners who have already put in sidewalks will appreciate others doing the same, he said.

“I’m if favor of assessments if they are not too large,” Smock added.

Property Values Might Improve

Councilman Dan Meleski said property values might increase slightly with the installation of sidewalks. He said he’s concerned about property owners suffering sudden financial hardship.

A variety of solutions to possible hardship cases were discussed, including having the city do the installation and adding the cost to a property owner’s taxes if he or she can’t afford to pay up front.

Councilman Andrew Blackley said, in cases of extreme hardship, the cost might be attached as a point-of-sale expense to a property buyer.

Some properties in the city will require a lot of preparation before the concrete is poured, he said.

Topography and utility issues could make the project very expensive. In some cases, the city could take care of the excavation, base-building and grading end of the project with the property owner paying for the actual construction of the sidewalk, Blackley said.

A resolution presented by City Solicitor Jim Gillette would limit the amount the city could attach to the property’s tax duplicate to no more than 30 percent of the property’s assessed value.

He also said if the cost for the instillation is going to be higher than the sidewalk’s benefit to the property owner, the city could do the grading and base building.

The resolution was not acted on last Wednesday.

However, in a straw poll, council agreed to place the lengthy ordinance on its first reading at the July 10 regular meeting agenda. Details might be discussed then.

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