City seeks path to sidewalk repairs

A sidewalk near downtown Payette shows evidence of tree root damage, as seen on July 22. City officials are working to determine how to fund repairs and replacement of sidewalks within city limits, as well as what tree removal requirements to add to prevent this sort of damage.

PAYETTE - The topic of walkability came up on the Payette City Council’s agenda at its regular meeting on July 20: Like many cities across the country, there are sidewalks throughout the city in need of attention thanks to being pushed up by tree roots.

“Staff is looking for feedback, what part of ‘this one’ we like, ‘that one’ we don’t like,” said Mayor Jeff Williams.

In the meeting’s agenda, city officials cited approaches taken by those of neighboring cities to help determine the best path toward funding sidewalk repairs. Following are examples reviewed by the Council:

• In Baker City, Oregon, a sidewalk utility fee ordinance exists to provide funds for construction, replacement and maintenance of sidewalks within public rights-of-way. Residential dwellings are each billed $1 per month, while commercial and industrial accounts each pay $2 per month.

• The city of Rexburg, Idaho places the burden of installing original curbs, gutters and sidewalks on the property owner, with the city only participating in replacement. City officials there reimburse owners $7.70 per linear foot for curbs and gutters, and $1.75 per square foot for sidewalks, if the owner first gets approval from the Engineering Department or Public Works Director before work starts. Reimbursement is paid to the property owner, not to any contractors used in the process.

• Property owners in Twin Falls, Idaho are similarly responsible for maintenance and repair of existing sidewalks under City Code, and work needs to be done by a contractor who is currently licensed by the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses. To help them out, city officials offer a grant program for residential and commercial property owners to cover up to 50% of the cost and applications must be submitted before work begins. Eligible sidewalks must be deteriorated, impede access or otherwise be out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only one application per owner is accepted in a calendar year.

The council also brought up the issue of trees planted near sidewalks, and how to prevent them causing further damage to city sidewalks.

“You could fix the sidewalk and in two years, if you don’t take those trees out, they’re going to do the exact same thing,” said Councilor Ray Wickersham, citing an example in Payette which occurred after a repair was made more than three years ago.

Councilor Daniel Lopez talked about offering incentives to those wishing to maintain their own sidewalks.

“Could we do something based on the square footage for guys who want to do their own?” asked Lopez. “I would like to see it to where they could submit square footage and … how much sidewalk they’re replacing.”

Lopez also said he liked the idea of having a right-of-way tree removal incentive, acknowledging that removal is expensive for individuals.

“A lot of those big maples haven’t been taken out, those big oaks haven’t been taken out, because nobody wants to pay to take them out. It costs you two thousand dollars to remove a tree,” he said, noting that removal can be messy and require stump grinding.

Any work started by individuals would still need to be approved by city officials, as the Council acknowledged. Williams noted the city’s tree committee would be involved in the approval process, as is the case in Twin Falls.

Williams noted the city has a limited amount of money to put toward tree removal in rights-of-way, which is in turn billed to those whose trees must be removed.

“We have a budget line item that … is put in there, so if a tree has to be taken down we have the money budgeted to pay for it and then it’s a lien against their property,” said Williams. “Eventually we’ll get it back, but we can’t spend money we haven’t put in the budget.”

Councilor Mike Kee recommended having a rule requiring a “sidewalk-friendly” tree to be placed for each tree removed under any program implemented, citing the city’s ‘Tree City’ status.

According to an email from City Clerk Mary Cordova on July 29, the council will talk about enacting a program at its regular meeting on Aug. 3.

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