Sidewalk Replacement Program Stirs Questions…And Answers!
(Crystal A. Proxmire, 6/27/2011)
At the City Council meeting of June 27, 2011 city officials voted unanimously to continue with the City’s sidewalk replacement program – with this year’s round of repairs set to be made South of 9 Mile and East of the railroad tracks. The cost of replacement is $96.50 per typical 5’ x 5’ four-inch-thick square or $108.00 for the six-inch-thick square adjacent to driveway approach.
The program requires all damaged or raised slabs to be replaced in a given section of the city for that year. Residents and businesses are charged for the replacement of sidewalks along their property. The assessment is made by an independent contractor, and the repairs have been contracted out to George E. Concrete LLC after a public bidding process.
Typically the entire City is done in a ten year cycle. In 2009 the City voted to delay the program, so it has actually been eleven years since this part of town has had repairs made.
Property owners were sent a letter from the DPW, which anyone can download by clicking here. This letter gives complete details about the program, including applying for a hardship plan.
Public discussion was held and residents came to Council with questions and concerns about the program. One issue of concern was whether or not the City should require residents to pay for slab replacement when the damage was caused by the roots of trees planted on the city-owned greenway between the sidewalks and the streets. Another question that arose was how the inspector makes their determination if a slab must be replaced. A couple of residents also implied that the City or Council members might be profiting from the assessments.
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter explained that sidewalk replacement is done through a bidding process and that a separate contractor handles the assessments and the replacements. He said “As we go through the budget every year this is a revenue neutral program… The bill residents receive is the amount that comes through the contractor to do this. …I’m concerned residents think there is someone making money off this in the city. They are not.”
The Department of Public Works (DPW) oversees the contracting of the inspections and the replacement work. Director Byron Photiades shared the standards used by the inspectors, saying that broken slabs are painted with the letter “b,” and slabs with an improper height or grade are marked “a.” When a slab does not line up properly with the one next to it, it creates an unsafe ridge called a “stubber.” When a stubber is a half an inch or more, it must be repaired or replaced.
The City of Ferndale website also has examples of other sidewalk codes one might see: “c” is for ponding, “d” is for holes, “e” is for scaling, “o” is for patch jobs, and “x” is for other things such as damage from city-installed fixtures.
Interim City Manager Mark Wollenwebber said that a half inch was “uniform in cities based on court cases,” and that maintaining safe sidewalks protects the City from lawsuits. “If we don’t fix it, or make individuals fix it, then we’ve bought it,” he said.
Councilperson Melanie Piana weighed concerns about the trees. “The tree root is an issue for a lot of people,” she said. “The benefits of trees are very valuable. We have lost a lot of mature trees over the decades… it is a long term concern.” She said that trees help the environment and air quality. They also provide shade and are an important part of neighborhoods.
Residents with Concerns?
Residents who disagree with the markings on their walks can contact DPW Director Photiades at BPhotiades@ferndale-mi.com to have the inspection reconsidered. Residents who cannot afford to pay can apply to the Hardship Committee to have the assessment broken down into payments. Information will be included along with the assessment from the City. Residents can have sidewalks replaced on their own if they follow the rules outlined by the Sidewalk Permit Fee Schedule. More details can be found in the letter sent to property owners. Download here.