Munroe Falls -- Property owners in the city may have to pay more for repairs of sidewalks in front of their properties, assuming the city finds out the sidewalks need to be repaired.
Service Director Jim Bowery told the Stow Sentry this past October that the city had not budgeted any money for its $15,000 annual sidewalk program in 2016. City Council made such budgeting unnecessary by unanimously approving a resolution Jan. 17 that eliminated the program entirely.
Council also unanimously approved an ordinance that eliminates fees the city charges for doing sidewalk repairs, but property owners one way or another will still be responsible for the full amount of any repair costs.
"We still have the right to tell you you have to repair it and if you don't, we'll repair it but it's a nuisance abatement process, not a set fee," Council President Steve Stahl said during the Jan. 17 meeting.
Bowery said the nuisance abatement process is how the city handles such issues as tall grass or overhanging branches, Property owners are required to address the problem or the city will do the work and assess the property owner the costs.
The way the inspection program worked is that the city inspected sidewalks in one of four zones each year, covering the entire city every four years. If a sidewalk needs to be repaired, property owners were given a choice, hire a contractor to do the work or pay the city a fee to do it.
According to city ordinances, the fee is set at $20 per foot for repairs or leveling, $30 per foot for replacements and $45 per foot for replacements within a driveway apron.
Stahl has noted, however, that although property owners are legally responsible for sidewalk repairs, those who opted to pay the fee were saving money since the fees, which date to 2006, were no longer covering the cost. The city was therefore picking up the balance.
"That doesn't even cover our concrete cost if we have to do it," Stahl has said previously, adding that "I don't think we should subsidize those costs."
Bowery said in handling sidewalk problems using the nuisance abatement process, if the city receives a complaint about a sidewalk, the city it will look at it and if the complaint is found to be valid, the property owner will be told to repair it. If the property owner fails to do so, the city will make the repairs and assess the property owner the full cost.
"We won't lose money on it," said Stahl on Jan. 17. "That's the key."
Stahl said that the cost-saving measures are due to the city's "financial situation." In November, voters approved a 2-mill capital improvement levy that is projected to bring in about $214,000 annually. Voters, however, rejected a 2.8-mill police levy and an increase in the city's local income tax rate from 2 to 2.25 percent which are projected respectively to raise about $300,000 and $276,000 annually.
On Jan. 19, Council approved placing both tax issues on the May 2 special election ballot. In the meantime, however, Council members say the city needs to cut $300,000 out of the 2017 permanent budget, which under state law must be approved by March 31. City officials say these will be difficult cuts and they still will not make up for the nearly $500,000 in projected deficits in the general find's cash reserve, which is at a little under $1 million, less than half what it was two years ago.
The city is currently operating with a temporary budget.
Stahl has said eliminating the sidewalk inspection program is also due to potential liability for the city if it has the program in its books, but it is inactive due to it not being funded.
"It's not that we don't believe in the program, we just can't afford to do it," he said Jan. 17.
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