If you are one of the Durham citizens who signed a petition to have a sidewalk built in front ouf your house, you can expect to hear from City Hall before long.
Not that your sidewalk is about to get built – just that you’ll have to pay more for it. Seven times more than the price listed when you and your neighbors sent your petition in.
“Those costs are going up,” Mayor Bill Bell said during a recent City Council conversation about how to spend what money the city has for sidewalks.
One result of that conversation is that property owners whose sidewalk petitions have submitted and approved will be assessed $35 per linear foot to help pay for it, even though the rate was $5 per foot when the City Council directed that their sidewalks would be built.
This is the situation: The city has a pair of to-do lists for new sidewalks:
• the 2006 DurhamWalks! plan, with 235 projects ranked in order of priority by objective standards (such as proximity to schools and parks), and
• 11 additional projects that residents have petitioned the city to build.
According to city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen, Durham’s dedicated fund for sidewalk construction and maintenance has about $2.5 million.
Three petitioned sidewalks have been on the list since 2006, two since 2007, three more since 2008. However, when the 11 petitioned walks are assessed by DurhamWalks! standards and added to that list, none comes in higher than 53rd.
Ahrendsen and Public Works Director Marvin Williams sent the council a recommendation to spend $737,814 getting the petitioned walks out of the way. With repair and ADA compliance to do, and three downtown sidewalks needing work in conjunction with ongoing construction, $667,356 would be left over for the $14 million worth of high-priority DurhamWalks! sidewalks that currently have no source of funding.
That idea did not go over very well.
“We need to look carefully at what’s in our DurhamWalks! plan and do what has the highest priority,” Councilwoman Diane Catotti said.
An alternative better received was to do the seven least-expensive petition projects – costing about $169,000 – put off the other four and spend more money on the DurhamWalks! list.
“There are 11 groups of citizens who went out and collected petitions and did everything we asked them to do, and they’ve been in the queue for a good bit of time,” said Councilman Don Moffitt.
“We can do one and we’ll have 10 unhappy people, we can do six and we’ll have five,” he said.
“The pragmatic, common-sense approach is to do the seven for a relatively small amount of money and then send a letter to the four saying there are economic difficulties here,” said Councilman Eugene Brown. “ ‘We’d like to be doing them, but it may be some time.’ ”
There was one other consideration: Building sidewalks costs an average of $55 per linear foot; in 2013, the council set an $35 per foot assessment for property owners getting petition sidewalks; but all 11 approved petitions came in when the assessment was $5 a foot.
“Another option is to go back to all the petition sidewalk groups and say, ‘Do you still want it if you have to pay at that $35 or $55 rate?’ ” Catotti said.
After some more discussing, the council reached consensus: write the petitioners on the least-costly seven asking if they still want the sidewalk at $35 a foot and let the other four settle into prioritized places with DurhamWalks!
“Let the market decide,” said Brown.
Details on handling the situation, and the notion of scrapping the petition process altogether, were referred back for city administrators to work out.
“Five dollars was a good deal,” Ahrendsen said. “Thirty-five is a better deal than full cost, but still ... “ He wasn’t so sure any petitioners would take it.