City brings back sidewalk repair rebates

Chad Frey
The Kansan
More people at home, and walking in their neighborhoods, has led to more calls to city hall to report trip hazards on sidewalks.

In 2020 there were 100 complaints of sidewalks in disrepair investigated by the city of Newton — a massive increase over previous years. In fact, the three previous years totaled 57 complaints. 

"With COVID-19 we have a lot of people at home, they are wanting to get out of the house and they are walking and utilizing sidewalks," said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city of Newton. 

"... When people are stumbling upon a a sidewalk that is in disrepair, they are calling the engineering office, the environmental officer. We are inspecting those and sending out notices."

Those in violation are issued a citation, which requires repair of the sidewalk. As of Tuesday, the city will now also offer some financial assistance to homeowners needing to make those repairs.

"The maintenance of the sidewalks is the the responsibility of the adjacent property owner," Loomis said.

The City of Newton is contributing $150,000 ($75,000 for 2020 and $75,000 for 2021) through 2021 from a capital reserve account, created from funds received from special assessment payments from a suspended sidewalk repair program in 2007 through 2009.

The good news for some of those property owners cited in 2020 is some funds set aside Tuesday will be retroactive — those cited in 2020 for sidewalk improvements can apply for funds. Each property owner that is approved for the program is eligible to a city- issued rebate of up to $3.50 per square foot of sidewalk repaired or replaced with a maximum of  $800.00.

"That does not mean that it pays for the entire sidewalk," Loomis said. 

The area that is repaired or replaced and subject to reimbursement is limited to the public sidewalk which is on the street frontage, that being on the street right-of-way and running parallel to the street, and shall not include any sidewalk serving as an approach or entrance into the property or any structures thereon.

This is not the first time the city has had a program in place to assist with sidewalk repair. 

In 2005, the city began a cost-share program to help residents pay for necessary repair work. The program was discontinued by the city commission in 2009 due of a lack of funding.

Under the 2005 program, work was completed by a low-bid contractor determined by the City. The City paid the contractor in full and shared costs with the property owner — up to $2.50 per square foot of sidewalk replaced and a maximum of $500 per address or $1,000 for a corner lot. Property owners could either pay their share to the city in a lump sum or pay it off on their property tax statement over a five-year period.

“We bid those project out so we could have economies of scale,” Loomis said. “If you need only two panels done, that cost (per panel) is going to be higher than if you have several hundred feet of sidewalk that needs to be done.”

That process also assisted homeowners in locating a contractor — the city collected a number of projects under a single umbrella to bid out the project and select a contractor for sidewalk repairs.

Those cited for safety issues were not required to use the city program or contractor for their project, if they chose not to. If they fix it outside of the city program, they would pay for the repairs on their own.

The new program requires homeowners to apply for funds, using a form that was approved as part of the program this week. Only sidewalks repaired as the result of a violation are eligible for the rebate program. 

Sidewalk complaints by year:

2017 = 18

2018 = 7

2019 = 22

2020  = 100

In other business:

• The commission approved a contract for Kansas Golf & Turf for paying $200,000 down and paying a 60 month lease for $5.021.59 per month for five years for golf course maintenence equipment for Sand Creek Station Golf Course

• The commission set the dates and times for the sale and discharge of fireworks in the city for the 2021 calendar year. The sale, and discharge, of fireworks will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. July 1 and 2.  Discharge July 3 and 4 will be from 7 a.m. to midnight, with sales from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Discharge on July 5 will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with sales ending at 9 p.m. 

• Reviewed ordinances surrounding gun use within the city limits and on land owned by the city. 

• Approved project plans and specifications for a storm sewer reconstruction project at S.E. 14th and Old Main. A nearly 60-year-old metal pope collapsed at the site.

• Received the annual Federal Airport Capital Improvement Program (ACIP) update from the Newton City/County Airport.