A couple's appeal of the cost they were assessed for sidewalk repairs completed at their residence resulted in some City Council members questioning whether the process through which the city determines that cost might have some cracks in it.
Tom and Tammy Wolfe asked for a reconsideration of the $674 the city is requiring them to pay to cover the cost of the sidewalk repairs made at their house on Ranke Court.
The city received an anonymous complaint regarding the condition of the sidewalk on Ranke, said Cindi Fitzpatrick, the city's director of public services.
When the city receives a sidewalk complaint, an employee of the service department will go out to inspect the area on the affected block or street and compile a list of the addresses where repairs are needed, she said.
The property owners are notified by certified letter about the needed repairs and that the work is their responsibility to complete by a certain date, Fitzpatrick said.
If the work has not been completed by the deadline, the city arranges for detailed inspections and cost estimates to be completed for the properties and requests council to approve legislation deeming the repairs to be necessary, she said.
The property owners again are notified by certified letter that the repairs must be done by a certain date. If they are not, the city completes the work and assesses the property owner 100 percent of the cost, Fitzpatrick said.
Residents can pay the entire amount or have the amount levied over 20 years on their property taxes, she said.
Tom Wolfe said he and his wife were not notified their sidewalk needed repairs.
"Our sidewalk was not in ill repair," he said. "It's only 15 years old."
Three panels were replaced by their house, Wolfe said, adding he is not aware of any other property on his street where sidewalk repairs were made.
Wolfe said there are cheaper and less-involved ways to repair the sidewalk than just removing and replacing the panels.
The city must conduct an inspection of any sidewalk once a complaint has been lodged, said Stephen Smith, director of law.
"We have to go out and review it and take steps to fix it (if needed) or we could be liable," he said. "So when we get a complaint, we do go out and check it, even if it's one address."
While three panels were replaced by the Wolfes' residence, the engineer who conducted the inspection determined the damage on one of the panels was caused by a city tree, Fitzpatrick said. As a result, the assessment presented to the Wolfes was reduced by $170 to the final total of $674.
To grant the appeal, council would have to amend legislation levying assessments to 20 property owners who did not complete the sidewalk repairs at their properties. Most of the properties in question are on Tamara Drive, according to the legislation. In addition to the Wolfe property, the ordinance also assesses one property each on Devin Road, Lombardo Street, Scott Court and La Rose Drive.
The legislation does not refer to properties where the owners have completed repairs in a timely fashion, Fitzpatrick said.
If the Wolfes' appeal were approved, council would amend the ordinance to remove or adjust the cost they have been assessed that is included in the legislation.
Councilman Jeff Davis said he was concerned about the potential "inconsistencies" of the city's sidewalk repair process.
For the last six years, the city has conducted a sidewalk repair program in which each year, sidewalks on designated streets are inspected and residents are notified about repairs that need to be made.
The city pays 50 percent of the cost of the repairs for sidewalks inspected under the program, Davis said.
"And those (property owners) who are caught up in complaints might be just two streets away in the same neighborhood and pay the full freight," he said. "That inconsistency leads me to think maybe we should have a comprehensive conversation about what we are trying to accomplish."
No one disputes the effectiveness of the city's sidewalk program, Davis said.
There is an issue of consistency if some residents have to pay the full cost of repairs and others only half, he said.
Councilman Roby Schottke echoed Davis' concern about the percentage of repair costs different residents have to pay.
Council approved tabling the ordinance until the March 5 meeting. Following that meeting, council directed the administration to review the current sidewalk program and consider some revisions for next year's program.
Councilwoman Christine Houk voted against tabling the ordinance.
"We have a staff member who (determined) the tree impacted one panel and that is why (the city) agreed to pay for one panel," she said.
"The process has played out and in this case the work has been completed."
Council approved an ordinance Feb. 20 levying the assessments for homeowners whose sidewalks were repaired last year under the regular sidewalk program.
The assessments cover half of the repair costs done at 76 properties on Barbee, Carol, Irwin and Louise avenues, Sheldon Place and Terry Lane. The city will pay the other half.