Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Garbage rates to rise 8%; council expands sidewalk debate to include trees and which areas to give priority

By Anyssa Roberts and Katherine Stach
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Garbage rates will increase 8 percent for Midway customers under a contract the city council extended Monday night. And with sidewalk repairs on the horizon, the council also discussed how to deal with trees and set priorities for sidewalk work.

The city will extend its four-year contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services by two years.
The residential rate for trash pickup will rise 96 cents to $12.91 per unit per month, said Rumpke representative Stacey Chambers.

Weekly trash pickup will remain the same with one bulk item pickup for unit. The rate will be effective beginning in July and extend until June 2018.

Sidewalks and trees

For months, the council has been discussing a new sidewalk policy, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has proposed spending $27,000 on sidewalks in the annual budget that begins July 1.

Council Member Sara Hicks brought up a new concern. “I don’t think that we can really effectively address this policy without also addressing our policy on the trees,” she said.

Hicks said one problem is that roots of old trees overgrow and damage the concrete. Some of the trees are planted by the city, but homeowners are held responsible if something happens to them, she said.

She said the city should take responsibility for the city’s trees, and remove old trees that damage sidewalks and replace them with less destructive trees.

Council Member Dan Roller said another way to address the issue would be redesigning the ways trees and sidewalks are placed around each other. Strategically building sidewalks away from large trees is a way to avoid having only pint-size trees lining sidewalks, and to preserve some larger trees, he said.

Hicks said she sees tree removal as a gradual process that happens along with sidewalk repair. She said the results of tree maintenance could make the city “stunning.”

“If we put in appropriate trees and remove trees that are already being disruptive, in the long run we can make the trees and the sidewalks work together,” she said.

Council Member Libby Warfield asked about a previous policy that allowed the city to place restrictions on changes residents could make to the space between the sidewalk and the road.

She said she would feel more comfortable moving forward with these types of changes if something like it was in place to prevent residents from planting their own potentially destructive trees. Hicks agreed and said that it is in the ordinance but hasn’t been enforced.

Hicks also said the city should have a way to help low-income residents pay for sidewalk repairs over time. Vandergrift said that something could be done to accommodate those residents.

Council Member Libby Warfield also made a new argument, that the city should focus on building sidewalks for areas that don’t have them. She said the two subdivisions that don’t have sidewalks may be disadvantaged if they have to help pay for sidewalk repairs.

Roller said repairs should be done where needed most, but even those who don’t have sidewalks in their neighborhoods will probably use sidewalks in the city too. Vandergrift said that these areas may get sidewalks someday although it’s not an immediate priority.

Council Member Bruce Southworth said the first priority should be to put this money towards areas where sidewalks end abruptly. “There’s places in the city where the sidewalk just ends in the middle of the property,” such as Turner Street, he said.

Vandegrift said Winter Street, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, should be the first concern. “The sidewalks on Winter Street are a death trap,” he said.

Vandegrift said one of the biggest issues is figuring out who owns the sidewalk. If a homeowner believes they own the sidewalk, and the city comes in and claims it’s theirs and begins repairs, it could potentially  cause legal issues.

“It puts us in a vague area of legal liability,” Council Member Steven Craig said.

Vandegrift disributed copies of the city's existing but unenforced policies on sidewalks.

For years, the city’s policy has been that the city can charge property owners $10 a day for damaged sidewalks, a policy that the city has had trouble strictly enforcing because they  can’t expect property owners who can’t afford repairs originally to pay a daily fine.

The city has also tried to work with property owners, covering up to $500 worth of repairs. On projects costing less than $500, the city would  help to cover a portion of the cost. If the property owner did not work with the city to repair the damaged sidewalk by an assigned date, the city would reserve the right to go in and complete the job, billing the property owner for the work completed.

Vandegrift said the city should repace the $10 daily fine with a rule that “a lien can be placed on the property if repairs are not done by a certain date.”

The sidewalk committee and the full council will continue discussing changes to sidewalk policy and possibly tree policy, Vandergrift said.

Other business

Vandegrift announced that the city is reopening bids for snow removal contracts. The city’s four-year contract with Wright’s Farm Service is expiring.

Vandergrift said that the city has not had any problems with Wright, and will consider it in the list of bids.

Cemetery bench: New benches will replace a broken concrete bench in Midway Cemetery.

The bench in the Veterans Memorial Garden of the cemetery has collapsed and a private bench was placed there, Hicks said.

A few years ago the council voted that only the city can provide benches in the cemetery, and any private benches will have to be removed.

Vandergrift said that there should be enough money in his proposed budget to put up new benches in the area.

Park improvements: The Citizens Action Committee for Walter Bradley Park will be planting redbud and dogwood trees from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 24, Hicks said. The committee has been working to improve the park with volunteers and local supporters.

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