Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Council debates how to help residents fix sidewalks as mayor plans to fund them in new budget

The sidewalk at 129 W. Main St. is among those that have been
painted to reduce the trip hazard. (Photo by Casey Parker-Bell)
By Katherine Stach and Anyssa Roberts
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Several sidewalks in Midway are in serious disrepair and can be a tripping hazard. The city's sidewalk policy, which has been a controversial topic for a long time, was brought up with a new perspective at Monday’s city council meeting.

For many years, the policy has been that the city can charge property owners $10 a day for damaged sidewalks. However, this has not been strictly enforced since 1990, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said.

“If you can’t afford to pay for sidewalk repairs how do you think you can afford to pay the fine,” Vandergrift asked, “That’s absurd.”

Last fall, Vandegrift appointed a committee of council members -- Bruce Southworth, Kaye Nita Gallagher and Steven Craig -- to address the city’s sidewalk concerns and draft a plan for improvement.

Southworth, the committee's chair, said it has "been going back and forth" and not met recently, and it would be good to get the whole council involved. City officials have discussed the possibility of sharing sidewalk repair costs with property owners.

Southworth brought something to the council’s attention on Monday evening that he said had not been discussed, the possibility of the city covering the full cost of sidewalk repairs.

Vandergrift, who wants to spend $25,000 or more on sidewalks in the next fiscal year, asked Southworth about his ideas for those who don’t have sidewalks or who have already paid for their sidewalks to be repaired.

Southworth said city money could be used to build new sidewalks on blocks that don’t have them.

Council Member Dan Roller said that although the city wants to help residents, sidewalks are for public use, not just for private homeowners. He proposed adding the sidewalk repair costs into a monthly payment for homeowners.

Vandegrift noted, “In the past we had a policy where the city would work with the owner to cover up to $500 worth of repairs.” On projects costing less than $500, the city would also assist in covering a portion, while leaving the rest to the property owner.

And, if the owner did not work with the city to repair the sidewalk by an assigned date, the city would reserve the right to go in and complete the job. The owner would be billed for the work, and if they did not pay that bill, a lien could be placed on the property.

“I think that would be both a fair and easy to execute policy,” Vandegrift said. He said the policy was actually piloted two years ago, before he became mayor, and only one person took advantage of it.

Council Member Libby Warfield noted, “Some sidewalks go the length of a resident’s entire property, and $500 isn’t even going to begin to cover those repairs.”

Council Member Sara Hicks also suggested the city apply for a grant for sidewalk repair, because the sidewalk issues affect mobility, health and school transportation.

Vandegrift has said he would like a new policy to be put in place by the start of the next fiscal year, since council budget workshops begin soon and he would like to propose $25,000 for sidewalk repairs.

Southworth suggested that the city should begin fixing the most severe walkways with this money, and go forward from there.

The sooner the better, some might say, as the city’s faulty sidewalks have also raised safety concerns. “We’ve got some major sidewalk concerns to fix downtown, or else someone is going to get hurt,” Vandegrift said.

The raises and dips in the city’s sidewalks create a tripping hazard for those walking, and in a community where traveling via foot is popular, this poses a problem. The city has painted some of the hazards to make them more visible, but it is not a long-term solution, Vandergrift said. Although sidewalks are a resident’s responsibility, the city can be held liable if someone hurts themselves because of problems with the pathways.

Vandergrift asked for the council to consider the options discussed, and said sidewalks will be on the next council meeting agenda.

The council will have a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 13 to begin discussing Vandegrift's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Cemetery property: Hicks said in January that the city made a priority list of things that needed to be done, and one of the top priorities was deciding what to do with the house in the city’s cemetery.
The city originally planned to demolish the house, but Hicks suggested giving it away to someone who could prove capable of moving the structure.

The individual who decided to take the house would be responsible for the costs associated with having the structure inspected and deciding if it was stable enough for relocation.

Another suggestion was that the property be used as a live burn for the fire department. There are a number of avenues that the city would have to go through legally to make that happen, but the council agreed that it would be a great training exercise for the fire department.

“But, there are also concerns as to how close that house is located to the city’s storage facility,” Vandegrift said.

Cleanup day April 22: A representative from Bluegrass Greensource discussed the Main Street Clean Sweep event set for Midway on Friday, April 22, from noon until 4 p.m. on East Main Street.

Community members can meet to pick up and dispose of litter throughout the city. Participants are provided with bags, gloves and shirts for the event. The price of the materials will be $250, and Midway will be invoiced for the cost. Specifically, the trash clean-up will focus on areas around waterways.

“We try to focus on a certain day to get people out and aware, but any way that we can help to pick up litter in the area is going to be really important to us,” Bluegrass Greensource representative Ashley Bryant Cheney said.

Memorial Day services: With Memorial Day approaching, Craig suggested that it was time to begin thinking about holiday services. He said they are still looking for a speaker but have gotten a head start on planning by ordering tents and chairs.

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