The talk was all about sidewalks at the Newton City Commission meeting Tuesday — ranging from issues with snow removal, to the display of merchandise outside downtown businesses, to who should pay for city sidewalk replacement.
Garth Mock, who lives in the 400 block of West Broadway, asked commissioners to consider revising the city's sidewalk replacement policy and said he did not think it was fair to ask home owners to fund the entire cost of sidewalk replacement.
He said he has been asked to pay to repair the city sidewalk in front of his house — a project he estimates will cost him about $2,000.
“I want to be a good citizen and I want to comply," he told commissioners. "I just don’t have the money to do that right now. ... It really is an unfair way, I think, for the city to handle it.”
Mock said the policy might have made sense when it was adopted years ago, but he does not think the policy is equitable since there are not sidewalks in all neighborhoods.
“We’re asking a shrinking part of the population to pay for what is part of the infrastructure that everybody gets to use," he said. “... It’s just not a fair policy anymore.”
He recommended the city perhaps take out some of the sidewalks that receive less traffic, if the city cannot afford to maintain the current sidewalk system.
Suzanne Loomis, city engineer/director of public works, said the city does not necessarily go out searching for bad sidewalks. If they receive a complaint, they make sure there isn't a safety issue with the sidewalk, especially for those who use wheelchairs or walkers.
City staff work with homeowners who may not be able to afford the sidewalk repairs right away and help them develop a timeline for the project.
“Although I understand this is a great burden to Garth and his family … I do know that there are many of his neighbors that have paid and already done their sidewalk,” Loomis said.
City Attorney Bob Myers said the city's policy mirrors state statute. He said there can be liability issues with broken sidewalks; if someone trips and falls on a sidewalk, the property owner could get sued.
Commissioner Jim Nickel suggested looking into a compromise option, such as the city trying to get a better bid for the project or creating financing options for homeowners.
“We can help lessen the cost, and then try to do something in cases where they want to spread some payments out,” Nickel said.
Downtown sidewalk policy
City Attorney Bob Myers also discussed the city's policy on how downtown businesses utilize the sidewalk space in front of their stores.
He said existing city ordinances prohibit any use of public sidewalks to display goods and merchandise; private benches and seating also are not allowed. However, the city has experimented with giving business owners some leeway, such as allowing them to put out signs on the sidewalks, set out tables and chairs for dining, and display a limited amount of merchandise.
“It can show some vibrancy and activity is going on,” he said. “... There have been some compliments of that. We’ve also received some complaints.”
He said some people have said too many items on downtown sidewalks can make the area appear cluttered and may not allow enough room for pedestrian use and people getting in and out of their cars.
Dan Layman with Layman's Antique Mall and Flea Market in Newton said placing some merchandise outside his store has increased his number of customers and draws people into the store.
“That is one of the biggest advertisements I have ever put out," he said.
“It does create an atmosphere and an ambiance that is kind of attractive and kind of fun,” Mayor Racquel Thiesen said on allowing downtown business owners to utilize sidewalks.
Commissioners agreed the next step should be contacting downtown business owners to get their input before drafting a new policy.
Sidewalks and winter weather
Commissioners approved an ordinance prohibiting the depositing of snow in public rights-of-way.
Suzanne Loomis, city engineer/director of public works, said shoveling large piles of snow and ice onto public streets can create dangerous obstacles.