Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Sidewalk Debates . Bexley, Ohio.

Tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of Bexley by the most sensitive man in Bexley, Simon Doer.

New York, we are not, nor are we Hyde Park, near sister city Bexley, England, yet we take sidewalk debates seriously, … even literally.

Perhaps the Englishman, William Shakespeare, said it best when Ariel, in The Tempest, lightly alludes to this even before the advent of sidewalks in the new world and to candidates being slip-shod when he replies to Prospero's command, 'Before you can say "come" and "go", and breathe twice, and cry, "so, so," each one, tripping on his toe, will be here with mop and mow.'

Okay so what has that to do with this issue and, the example of a student this sensitive resident knows, who while rushing to school with a backpack came face to face with the issue?

Bexley's City Service Department has evaluated city sidewalks needing replacement and repair and Bexley’s City Council approved an ordinance this summer to place financial responsibility on city residents for the repair and replacement of defective sidewalks. Yet, there has been constant debate as to whether the city or residents should bear the cost of fixing damaged sidewalks.

Precedent is with the city avoiding the cost of repairs as a 1948 ordinance placed the burden on each adjacent property owner to maintain the sidewalk abutting their property, until the city took over the responsibility in 2004. Concern with the infrastructure and continuing deterioration of sidewalks led to discussion of whether the city or the residents should be in charge of fixing the sidewalks.

A sidewalk is considered unsafe when there is a one-inch or more gap in between sidewalk squares that could result in someone tripping (and perhaps seeing the light fantastic at that time).

Ah, but what is a property owner to do? Legal liability could well face owners who do not take an active role in their sidewalk maintenance while cities may be able to claim some governmental immunity.

In the 2004 Court of Appeals Eighth District of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, of Bentley versus Collins, the Ohio duty and liability of a landowner abutting a public sidewalk to a pedestrian injured on it was reexamined. Under Ohio law, it is a generally accepted principle that “an owner of property abutting a public sidewalk is not, generally, liable for injuries sustained by a pedestrian. However, there are three exceptions to this general rule where a property owner may be held liable:
“(a) a statute or ordinance imposes on such owner a specific duty to keep the sidewalk adjoining his property in good repair;
“(b) by affirmative acts such owner creates or negligently maintains the
defective or dangerous condition; or,
“(c) such owner negligently permits the defective or dangerous condition to exist for some private use or benefit.”

Many joggers use the streets of Bexley rather than our sidewalks.

Is that a slap at the care we have given our sidewalks?

In April 30, 2008, This Week contributor Gail Martineau reported in an article titled “Service committee supports homeowner-funded sidewalk repairs,” that Rick Weber, council member and service committee chair supported the measure because he said the city has been falling behind on road improvements and needs to free up money.
Bexley has money coming from a 2.5-mil continuing levy passed by residents in 2002 "for the purpose of constructing, reconstructing, resurfacing and repairing streets, alleys, sidewalks and other similar improvements."

The levy produces a little over $850,000 each year. It costs residential property owners $56.47 per $100,000 of assessed property value; that to repair our roadways and throughfares.

Wasn’t that levy really to repair the infrastructure of Bexley’s roadways and to provide wheelchair and other access to the sidewalks, rather than to repair the sidewalks in front of property owner’s residences?

That was not the argument in 2004 when resident Nancy Duffy proposed a resolution altering the 1948 ordinance and the City agreed to repair all sidewalks.

According to the This Week reporter, City Attorney Lou Chodosh said the current debate centers on determining whether the levy was considered a tax or an assessment for city sidewalks. He said he interpreted the levy as an assessment because it was created for the specific purpose of "replacements or repairs of streets, alleys and sidewalks," rather than for the city's general fund.

In 2004, resident Nancy Duffy persuaded council to pass a resolution to pay for all sidewalk-related costs because that use was listed in the levy ballot language. She said to continue to assess residents would be double taxation.

In the same article by Gail Martineau, she referred to Cathy Della Flora, who lives on North Merkle Road, who said residents should not be responsible for repairing their own sidewalks. Della Flora said it was the city's responsibility to figure out how to pay for them.

"You cannot tax someone for something and double dip and ask them to pay for it," she said. "You overspent. It's not my problem."

Martineau wrote that Duffy said the city made poor choices in paying for repairs such as with driveway aprons, the large concrete slabs where the driveway meets the curb.

"Spending public money on private property is a very expensive decision," Duffy said.

Again according to the This Week article, Council member Mark Masser said he supports assessing residents for their sidewalks.

"We are falling further and further behind," he said. "This is one way to finally find some more money."
Martineau further reported that Frank Kass, who lives on North Parkview Avenue, said residents should fund their own sidewalks.

"I feel that the infrastructure in our city is deteriorating faster than we can fix it," he said. "It's our own responsibility to fix our property. We have to keep our infrastructure great."

Suburban News Publications’ writer Sara Johnson reported on September 5, 2008 in an article “Assessment of sidewalks gives
Bexley leaders things to think about” that according to the Service Department, employees assessed the area north of Broad Street, considered as north Bexley, to find 470 sidewalk squares and 10 driveway squares in need of repair for a total of $88,200 as the city's responsibility.

Bexley will be in charge of repairing a sidewalk if damage is the result of a city-owned tree.

Sara Johnson reported that Bill Harvey, City Services Director, identified sidewalks considered for residential responsibility included 430 sidewalk squares and 30 driveway squares for $86,300. [That is similar to the 50 50 arrangement some cities share in the repair of sidewalks with property owners.]

Sara reported that the city discovered that central Bexley, the area between Main and Broad streets, had between 1,200 and 1,300 sidewalks squares that required work and that the area south of Main Street, south Bexley, needs work on around 2,000 sidewalk squares.

She reported that the city spends around $700,000 from the budget on streets, sidewalks and alley repairs.

As to the student with the backpack, there was a double impact when tripping over a public sidewalk the backpack created a second impact with the sidewalk. So whatever the debate, this sensitive resident observes that this is more an issue about the safety of our sidewalks for the users rather than who is to pay for their repairs. Having paid $1,200 to repair all of the sidewalks squares in front of this sensitive resident’s Bexley home, without benefit of the funds of other property owner taxpayers, this writer could be callous to the pleas of the Nancy Duffy’s of Bexley, but is not.

Is this really a debate about who pays for sidewalk repairs? Don’t property owners pay one way or another, either through taxes or direct repairs? Wouldn’t direct repairs be more equitable for all property owners, each paying for the repairs for the sidewalk defects adjacent to their property?

Isn’t this really about protecting that student with the backpack? Aren’t property owners more likely than the city services department to be aware of ongoing issues with the sidewalks adjacent to their property?

The city of Bexley will still cover the cost of repairs caused by the trees they plant.

Do we really need other taxpayers to pay for our sidewalk repairs and us for their repairs? Should I cover the cost of the sidewalk repairs for a large corner lot when my frontage is in the range of thirty or fifty feet? Should all property owners provide for the repairs of the sidewalks in front of Bexley’s largest homes, which reap their market value in ultimate sales – even in this hopefully temporary declining home value market cycle?

This is one sensitive man’s opinion. What’s yours?


The Most Sensitive Man In Bexley
WCRX-LP Editorial Collective
Bexley Public Radio Foundation operating as
WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM, Local Power Radio
2700 E. Main St., Suite 208
Columbus, OH 43209
Voice (614) 235 2929
Fax (614) 235 3008

Bexley Public Radio Foundation operating as WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM is exempt from federal taxes under IRC Section 501(c)(3). Donations are deductible from federal income taxes for individuals who itemize. Checks may identify the payee as Bexley Public Radio Foundation WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM.

"The Most Sensitive Man in Bexley" is a style owned by Bexley Public Radio Foundation.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation.

No comments: