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Sidewalk repair debate delayed for further study

Are city sidewalks a community asset that benefits everyone, or are they an enhancement to individual properties?

That was the central question in a lengthy debate Monday night at the regular New Richmond City Council meeting.

City Engineer and Street Superintendent Dan Koski presented a proposal to begin budgeting $20,000 annually for the repair and replacement of damaged sidewalks in the community.

The city's current policy requires homeowners to pay for the cost of repairs or replacement of sidewalks on their land, but Koski said the city has picked up the cost of such projects in recent years.

Koski said it would be better for the city to budget for such repairs and take the burden for repairs and replacements off the individual landowners. He said sidewalks benefit everyone in the community, yet only homeowners on one side of a street are saddled with the burden of maintenance and repair of those pathways.

It would be more equitable if the city's general tax funds paid for such projects, Koski said.

Mayor Fred Horne said he opposed the idea, noting that the city's budget wouldn't be able to handle the requests for sidewalk repairs and replacements that would result from the policy change.

"I think we need to take a long, hard look before we head down this path," he said. "It's a big step taking on these sidewalks."

Alderman Jim Zajkowski agreed, adding that "giving free sidewalks away" would be a burden on taxpayers throughout the community. And, Zajkowski said, the proposed $20,000 annual budget for sidewalks would be a "drop in the bucket" when trying to deal with all the needed repairs and replacements in the community.

He suggested the city look at possibly developing a policy that splits sidewalk repair and replacement costs 50-50 with homeowners.

Alderman Jane Hansen said she had no complaints about the current sidewalk assessment policy, and Alderman Ron Volkert said homeowners who have already paid to repair or replace their sidewalks would complain if the city suddenly started to cover the full cost of such projects.

Alderman Roberta Dale-Wozniak, however, thought the policy change proposal had merit. She said a good sidewalk system is a safety and community transportation issue that is better handled through the budget process.

Alderman Craig Kittel said he viewed sidewalks as a community amenity, noting that homeowners with sidewalks on their land are forced to shovel during the winter to keep the pathways open for everyone to use.

In the end, no action was taken on the matter. The topic will be placed on the agenda of next week's special City Council meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday for further discussion.