A six-year program designed to repair older sidewalks in Grove City is wrapping up.

As they consider whether to continue or expand the program, city officials will be deciding if there are any cracks in the initiative.

In recent weeks, residents have attended City Council meetings to voice concerns about having to pay the entire cost to repair or replace sidewalk panels at their properties while other residents, whose properties were included as part of the program, only had to pay 50 percent of the cost of work at their homes.

The city's sidewalk program was developed to target sidewalks in many of its oldest neighborhoods, where sidewalks are at least 60 years old and areas where large number of students are using the sidewalks while walking to school, said Cindi Fitzpatrick, the city's director of public service.

"These were areas of our community where the sidewalks often were non-existent because they were crumbling," said Councilman Ted Berry, chairman of council's service committee.

The majority of the sidewalks addressed over the last six years were located in The Groves section of the city or near Richard Avenue, Fitzpatrick said.

"We targeted a certain number of streets each year during the program, inspected the sidewalks in those areas and determined where sidewalk repairs were needed," she said.

Residents in the targeted areas are only responsible for paying 50 percent of the cost of the work conducted at their properties. The city has picked up the rest of the tab.

"Some of the sidewalks in those areas were in need of massive repair or new sections had to be put in," Berry said. "There was an additional cost and many of the residents in these older neighborhoods are seniors who couldn't afford the cost."

A Grove City resident who is assessed the cost of sidewalk repairs can choose to pay the cost over 20 years on their tax bill, at zero percent interest.

"It is unusual for a city to offer to pay any share of the cost of sidewalk repairs, unless the problem is caused by a street tree or city construction work," Berry said.

"I don't know of anywhere else that does that," he said.

Other city policies

The city of Westerville is in the second year of a nine-year cycle in its sidewalk maintenance program, said Christa Dickey, the city's community affairs director.

Each year, the sidewalks within an area of the city are evaluated, she said. Inspectors mark the sections of the sidewalks that must be repaired or replaced. Notices are sent out to residents.

If the damage to a sidewalk panel is caused by a city tree, the section will be marked and the city pays the cost of repairs, Dickey said.

The program will insure that all sidewalks will have been inspected by the year 2026, she said.

Property owners can make their own repairs and pay the cost up front or they can opt to have the city's contractor do the work. The city pays the contractor and the residents can then pay the cost or have it included on their next tax bill.

Residents who do not take care of their sidewalk repairs or arrange to pay the cost will have the expense added to their tax bills, Dickey said.

"The benefit of our program is that it brings certainty of how sidewalk repairs will be addressed to the city and to our residents," she said.

The city of Upper Arlington has returned to a sidewalk maintenance program after switching to a complaint-based system in the early 2000s, said City Engineer Jacolyn Thiel.

"We found that the complaint-based system just wasn't working for us," she said.

Many sidewalk issues were not being reported, perhaps in part because a resident assumed someone else was notifying the city about a problem, Thiel said.

Upper Arlington sidewalks are being evaluated in a cycle that will cover the entire community every five years, she said.

Residents whose streets were included in the inspections last year were notified in January if sidewalks at their property were in need of repair and whether some or all of the cost was their responsibility. The city takes care of sidewalk repairs caused by street tree or other reasons falling under the city's scope of responsibility.

Upper Arlington requests that residents rectify an issue by June of a given year. If the work is not completed, it will be included as part of the city's summer sidewalk improvement plan and residents will be assessed the costs on their tax bills, Thiel said.

State law upholds the policy that it is traditionally a homeowner's responsibility to pay for the maintenance of the sidewalks at their properties, Fitzpatrick said.

"It's like any other part of your property," she said. "If there's a problem with your driveway, it's your responsibility to pay for it. It's generally the same with sidewalks in any community."

Steps toward repairs

Grove City does not regularly inspect all the sidewalks in the community, Fitzpatrick said.

The city doesn't have the resources for a regular comprehensive inspection program, she said.

Residents can file complaints with the city when they come across a sidewalk issue, Fitzpatrick said. When a complaint is filed, the city will send inspectors to check the property that has been earmarked as well as adjoining parcels.

If a sidewalk is in need of repair and the issue is not caused by a street tree, residents will be notified they need to take care of the situation.

Each year, council is asked to approve special assessments for properties where residents did not arrange for repairs and the city went ahead and completed the work.

Unless those repairs were caused by a street tree, the resident is responsible for 100 percent of the cost, Fitzpatrick said.

It's understandable that residents who must pay all the cost of sidewalk repair think they are being treated unfairly when a property the next street over has half the cost covered by the city, Berry said.

"But if the feeling is that you're being 'cheated' by the city, I don't agree with that," he said. "Sidewalks are still the property owner's responsibility."

The nature and mission of the sidewalk repair program has perhaps been misunderstood and could be better defined, Berry said.

"It's really been a re-urbanization project," he said. "It's been an effort to address sidewalks in older areas of our city that have not been addressed. In some cases, these are sections of our city that haven't received the same amenities that newer sections have."

Most of the sidewalks in older neighborhoods have been addressed over the past six years, Fitzpatrick said.

"Now we'll be working with the administration and council to take another look at our program and decide if we want to continue with it, expand it to include other areas or if there are any changes we want to make to the program," she said.

The city had budgeted about $400,000 each year to pay for sidewalk repairs, Fitzpatrick said. Additional funding has been provided to cover the cost of repairs caused by street trees.

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