At the Aug. 13 Paonia Town Council meeting, the issue of letters sent to property owners about repairing public sidewalks adjacent to their property was not listed on the agenda but was handled during committee reports. That meant the most contentious issue for the night was saved for last.
Ross King explained that notices had been sent out by the building official for sidewalks deemed in violation of town code. That includes sidewalks that are cracked, difficult to walk on and uprooted by trees.
"This board identified a number of concerns as it relates to the condition of our sidewalks around the community and seeing that the effort to fund a repair program [by] a fee attached to our water, sanitation and trash bill failed, we opted to enforce an ordinance that was passed by this community some years ago. That ordinance requires the property owner to repair the sidewalks on their particular property. We looked at this from a number of viewpoints. First of all, from the potential of liability to the town and the attendant property owner. We are talking about safety to pedestrians that use our sidewalks. And we are looking at the enforcement of the codes and ordinances we currently have," King said. "This has caused quite a lot of consternation in some regards, and in some ways I'm glad to see it."
King said he had heard there had been substantial criticism of the board of trustees. "I'm sorry to hear that. This board is just trying to do what you elected us to do. That is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of this community."
Various citizens spoke on the issue. The first man asked if neighborhoods without sidewalks would be forced to install them. He asked if the elderly on Social Security could afford the repair costs. His mother received a letter from the Town of Paonia, which he said threatened her with a $1,000 fine for a few weeds growing on her sidewalk. His mother panicked and was trying to remove the weeds during a rain storm. "This is nonsense and you need to go about this in a better way," he said.
Those in attendance seemed to be in agreement with much of what he said until he told the council to handle the issue "like a white man." Members of the council said they were offended by that remark.
The letter to repair sidewalks gave the property owner 60 days to get a building permit, six months to start repair and another six months to finish the project. So, property owners were given 14 months to bring the sidewalks into compliance.
A citizen responded that it would not be possible to complete the project in that time frame during winter. He also complained about the threat to have the cost of the sidewalk put on the person's property tax bill. "I can't afford $3,000-$5,000 on my property tax," he said. "Then you're looking at losing your house in three years."
King stated the town would just put a lien on the property until it was paid. The property could not be sold until payment had been received for the town making the repair.
Town attorney Jim Briscoe said that was wrong. The tax lien would be tacked on to the property tax bill. The Town of Paonia would certify the bill to the treasurer. If the taxes are not paid in three years a tax lien is issued.
Other issues raised concerned trees which had been planted long ago and were uprooting the sidewalks. Were property owners supposed to incur the cost of their removal as well?
It was strongly noted that the sidewalks are public and belong to the Town of Paonia, not the individual property owner. Yet the ordinance places the burden on the property owner adjacent to the sidewalk to cover the cost. Is that fair, it was asked. "Why do I have to pay for something I don't own?"
The Paonia Pathways Report was discussed. In Appendix C it stated that 75 feet of sidewalk would cost $4,500, 200 feet would cost $10,000. Those are prices from when the report was written and do not reflect current costs.
A ballot proposal first suggested by town clerk Barbara Peterson in 2011 would have added $3 each month to everyone's utility bill. The $3 would have been kept in a fund reserved for sidewalk repairs. The money could be used as a match for grants. There would be no need for an individual property owner to have to fund sidewalk repairs. It would be a cost shared by all in the town. It was soundly defeated by voters by nearly a 70 to 30 percent margin. Her proposal is now getting a second look.
Trustee Amber Kleinman's motion to hold the enforcement of the sidewalk code violations in abeyance until a better plan is devised was unanimously approved by the board.blog comments powered by Disqus