City may extend 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 February the Newton City Commission launched a sidewalk repair rebate program, targeted at property owners who had been cited for safety violations in 2020 and 2021.

It was, in part, a response to an increase in complaints and violations issued for sidewalks in a state of disrepair that were a safety hazard for pedestrians.

The program, which was started with seed money from a previous program, has helped 67 property owners to the tune of $41,648.03 this year. That breaks down to an average of $621.61 per property — with 26 properties applying based on violations in 2021 and 41 properties applying based on violations in 2020.

To date, 13,208.5 square fee of sidewalk have been replaced through the program.

Oct. 26 the city commission will be asked to continue the program beyond the end of 2021. A resolution in the city agenda packet, if approved, would continue the program until all funds designated for the program are exhausted — or other funding is designated.

In February the city commission  approved $150,000 in funding ($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.

Rising complaints

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 during meetings to launch the rebate program. "... 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.

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

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.

Previous programs

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.”