Council eyes sharing cost of sidewalk maintenance
From staff reports
Work is underway on revisions to a proposed city ordinance that addresses the issues of public sidewalk maintenance and ownership, defective sidewalks, and how repairs are funded.
The city maintains that residential sidewalks that abut a property are the responsibility of that property owner. But with construction costs to repair a sidewalk estimated at $80 per foot, it is working to establish a cost-sharing program that it hopes would encourage homeowners to collaborate with the city to repair defective sidewalks in the public right of way.
“Philosophically, I think it’s the city’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalks, but as far as cost goes, I don’t think it’s practical for us to take care of the weight of the repairs,” Mayor Lew White said.
Following a discussion, council directed city staff to continue working on the ordinance before bringing it back for review at a future meeting.
Public Works Director Sean Kelley said the staff had been receiving increasing inquiries about sidewalk repairs and replacement. He said the purpose of the ordinance was to provide a guide for fixing defective sidewalks, including eligibility for the cost-sharing program and how it pertains to curbs, driveways, detached stretches of sidewalk and other features.
Cost-sharing programs are not unusual, he told council at its Jan. 4 regular meeting.
“We have surveyed several cities and a lot of them take a similar approach to what is being drafted tonight,” Kelley said. “Some have cost sharing, so that’s something we can take a look at.”
Kelley’s presentation broke down eligibility for the cost-sharing program (existing sidewalks located in single-family, condo, or town home neighborhoods), how it would work (work begins after the homeowner’s portion of the payment is received), and what it doesn’t cover (sidewalks that don’t connect to other sidewalks, cosmetic defects that aren’t structural, curbs, gutters and driveways).
Kelley said the city had compiled a list of sidewalks that met the proposed criteria.
A lengthy discussion, followed, however, as council members raised questions about voluntary participation, affordability for some property owners and liability if repairs aren’t completed.
“The larger challenge is, how do you balance the interest of homeowners who can afford to participate and those who can’t,” Council member Kara McGregor said. “How do you balance the interest of what money goes where? I can see a scenario where some neighborhoods don’t get sidewalks repaired.”
Lockhart resident Marcia Proctor also voiced her concerns.
“What is confusing about this to me, is this proposed ordinance just about cost share?” Proctor asked council. “It doesn’t sound like that’s all it’s about. It sounds like I, as a homeowner, now have responsibility for city sidewalks that abut my property, and it doesn’t seem too clear.
“There are quite a few sidewalks that probably pose a danger and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. With the cost sharing, I ask that don’t do it first come first served but do it by priority.”
City Attorney Monte Akers said the City needed to ascertain which sidewalks in the community were a safety hazard and address them, or it could be named as a defendant in a potential personal injury lawsuit.
“The city needs to be aware of obstacles and defects,” Akers said. “It doesn’t matter who constructed it. The city is going to be named a defendant.
“If the city should have known, the city has the responsibility to make repairs, or block it off, or erect signage. It’s when there’s a failure to do that the city is liable.”
Akers interpreted the finer points of the proposed ordinance for council, but noted there was language that could benefit from clarification.
“The draft ordinance provides at the very beginning that each homeowner is responsible for the sidewalk (abutting their property), and provides that there is a penalty for violating it,” Akers said. “I don’t interpret that they are obligated to be involved (in the cost-sharing program). What the city is going to do when they won’t engage in the cost-sharing program, that issue needs to be worked out as you address the ordinance.”
In other action, City Council:
Authorized the City Manager to continue the City’s partnership with Community Action, Inc.’s Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP). The program assists Lockhart residents with the electric portion of their bills prioritizing low-income families with children under five years old, and/or elderly, disabled, or veteran family members. The CEAP does not apply to water/wastewater, solid waste, and recycling fees. The program reportedly helped 124 unduplicated households in Lockhart in 2021.
Directed Staff to begin the process to amend the zoning ordinance to require covered parking (garages/carports) for detached single-family homes. The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider this item at its Jan. 26 meeting. With the commission’s recommendation, a public hearing for the adoption of the ordinance will be held in the Feb. 1 City Council meeting, at the earliest.
Directed Staff to prepare a resolution requiring Councilmembers’ nominations to be submitted to the City Secretary at least seven days prior to the scheduled City Council meeting, at which the nomination will be considered.