Debate over fixing or replacing deteriorating sidewalks is swirling again in Washburn — as is the conundrum of how to pay for it.
Linda Coleman and Connie Wroblewski, who appeared via video, raised the issue to the council Monday night, following up on a request by Girl Scouts two months ago to take a good look at safety concerns posed by grass-choked, uneven sidewalks — or people walking in the streets to avoid them.
But the women went further than the Girl Scouts’ proposal that the city fix Washington Avenue sidewalks. Coleman and Wroblewski asked that the council order sidewalks citywide be fixed or replaced, and tell property owners to remove any objects blocking the paths.
Coleman pointed to the fact that property owners are financially responsible for keeping the sidewalks adjacent to their property in good repair. But she also cited state statutes saying the city is liable if someone suffers an injury on them.
Coleman also said that addressing sidewalks street by street doesn’t address the full scope of the problem and isn’t fair to property owners. She thought that if the city sought bids for a large-scale project it might get a good rate, property owners could be assessed over time, and perhaps the community as a whole could share some of the costs.
Also, nice sidewalks could raise property values while enhancing the appearance of the community, she said.
But the cost to fix and replace sidewalks is steep, both to property owners and the city.
Mayor Richard Avol and council President Karen Novachek said they searched for grants but couldn’t find any. Furthermore, the city is facing a big-ticket budget item for which it will probably need millions in loans when Bayfield Street is reconstructed in a few years.
But Councilwoman Jennifer Maziasz reminded the council that the city has made progress in regard to sidewalk accessibility, pointing to the city’s success at enforcing an ordinance requiring Bayfield Street property owners to clear sidewalks after a snowstorm.
Maziasz recommended that the city return to its safe routes for schools plan to address sidewalks in the school area, taking it up again in the budget process.
Novachek motioned to reaffirm prioritizing sidewalks near the schools and then look at other areas of the city, potentially starting with Washington Avenue. Maziasz seconded.
The motion was defeated on a tied vote broken by Mayor Richard Avol, who had said it wasn’t necessary because the council had already voted to pursue the plan.
The council had an easier decision to make regarding objects blocking sidewalks.
After discussion, the council unanimously decided to educate Washburn residents during the fall and winter about the city ordinance requiring sidewalks be clear of objects and begin enforcing the ordinance in the spring.