Simplified: The city is asking councilors to approve changes to how sidewalk repairs are handled to make it easier for the city to both do the repairs and send homeowners the bill.
Why it matters
- If you own a house with a sidewalk, you're responsible for keeping that sidewalk safe. That won't change with this ordinance, but it will make it easier for the city to take action if a broken sidewalk stays broken for too long.
- The city has had a hard time getting responses from people once they're notified that their sidewalk is in need of repair. For context, last year the city sent 2,600 letters notifying folks their sidewalks needed fixing, and they saw only about 1,100 responses, according to Mike Heiberger, principal engineer with the city.
- The proposed changes also come as a result of a 2020 change to state law which allows damaged sidewalks to be classified as a "nuisance" in the same vein as un-mowed lawns or un-shoveled sidewalks.
"It'll be a simpler process for us to identify it as a nuisance," said City Engineer Andy Berg. "It'll be the same process for the homeowner."
So, what happens if my sidewalk needs repair?
You'll get a letter from the city. That part won't change. Here's a look at what types of damages need to be fixed as well as acceptable repairs.
Your options at that point (and again, this isn't changing) are to:
- Have the city fix it and send a bill,
- Hire a contractor to fix it,
- Or fix it yourself, knowing that you need to make sure it's compliant with regulations.
Typically, the time frame to fix the sidewalk is about six months, Heiberger said. After that, the city takes action.
The proposed ordinance change comes into effect when we look at what happens when folks don't respond to the letters from the city.
As it stands now, if the city wants to take over and fix the sidewalk for you, they have to go to the City Council for approval. Then, to charge you for the work, they have to go back to City Council for approval again.
"It's obviously a bit cumbersome," Berg said.
So, what are the proposed changes?
The changes – if passed into ordinance – essentially remove the need for council approval for sidewalk repairs and billing.
- It'll be similar to the process for how the city responds if you don't mow your lawn.
Here's how it'll work:
- You get the letter saying the sidewalk needs fixing.
- You either respond (see above for those options) or you ignore it.
- The city then hires a contractor to fix all the broken sidewalks for people who ignored the letters.
- You get one a knock on your door and a door-hanger explaining that your sidewalk will be repaired on a certain date. This is your last chance to fix it yourself.
- The contractor fixes it.
- The city sends you the bill. (The cost of the repair can also be added to your assessment and collected at tax time.)
What happens next?
Councilors have already given initial approval to the proposal, and it'll be up for final approval during their regular meeting Wednesday evening.