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Norwalk council: Sidewalk repairs inching closer

NORWALK, Conn. – The discussion continues on who should pay for Norwalk sidewalk repairs – homeowners or taxpayers.

“It’s going to be a very difficult decision of who is going to pay to fix these. It’s a no-win situation,” Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said.

Norwalk council members are making progress on the issue even if they’re working at cross purposes, as one group tries to bring Norwalk ordinances in line with state statutes and another group approaches the need to repair sidewalks the same way it approaches the need to repair roads, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said. Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) said the ideas are not mutually exclusive, while Councilman David Watts (D-District A) lamented the fact that smaller communities can get money from the state for sidewalk repairs, even if they are rich.

The discussion came about as members of the Public Works Committee worked toward voting unanimously to spend $20,250 on an engineering study of the 55 miles of sidewalks in Norwalk’s urban core. This will make a list that can be used to prioritize repairs, in much the way Norwalk made a list of needed road paving to develop a 5-year plan.

When the report from the engineer comes back, Kimmel asked, does Norwalk fix the sidewalks or notify the homeowners?

“I have mixed feelings about this,” Kimmel said. “I sometimes feel we are going in two different directions when it comes to sidewalks, and hopefully in the future, when we discuss footpaths. On the one hand, we are in process of redoing our ordinance so it conforms to state law. In Connecticut, as you know, the repair of the sidewalk is the responsibility of the property owner. I think (the Ordinance Committee) is also looking into the possibility of duplicating a process that a number of other towns in the state have put on the books about where you would have reimbursements for repairs, because sidewalk repair can be quite expensive and could be in front of a small house, with lower income. So they are looking at all that stuff. Bottom line is, we are moving in one direction where we will begin to implement an ordinance which corresponds to state law which will prevent us from being sued in the future and limits our liability should some tragedy happens on a messed up sidewalk.”

He continued, “On other hand we have this mindset, and it’s not a bad mindset, it just happens to be more expensive, where we treat sidewalks as if they were roads. We want to have an evaluation, we want pavement index for sidewalks and then we’ll go and we’ll fix them. Well, it’s not our responsibility accord to Connecticut statute. In fact, if we are remiss on fixing them because we don’t appropriate enough money for your department we’re going to get sued. So we’re going in two directions.”

Bottom line for Kimmel: “I am not for fixing any sidewalk where the deficiency has not been caused by our road repair.”

“I don’t see it as dichotomous as you do,” McCarthy said.

More knowledge is better than less knowledge, he said, and if the city finds there are bad sidewalks it should order homeowners to get the work done, he said. Yes, there might be reimbursement

“I think, do we need, with whatever little money that is available, in my little opinion sitting here, I do think we almost need to focus on spending less on doing the repairs and say if it’s going to be the citizen’s responsibility, it’s the citizen’s responsibility unless the city causes the damage and the little money we have allocated could be used for new sidewalks rather than focus on repairing sidewalks,” McCarthy said.

“I totally disagree,” Watts said, emphasizing that he represents an urban community with a lot of sidewalks.  “You see the condition of the sidewalks and you have to wonder, is this the image that we are trying to project? That we are a model city? You can’t project that image when you have mothers and handicapped individuals rolling down the sidewalks.”

Watts, who is running for state representative, diverged to a state funding issue. In July 2012, legislation creating the Main Street Investment Fund Program went into effect, providing up to $500,000 to eligible municipalities that have approved plans to develop or improve their town’s commercial centers. Westport was one of the first recipients named, with plans to put in 8,000 linear feet of sidewalk, new curbs and energy efficient lighting, according to WestportNow.

The funding is for municipalities with populations of not more than 30,000 people or municipalities eligible for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP).

“The grant shall be used for improvements to property owned by the municipality, except the municipality may use a portion of the proceeds of the grant to provide a one-time reimbursement to owners of commercial private property for eligible expenditures that directly support and enhance an eligible project,” according to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM).

“I’m scratching my head. This is again picking winners and losers. It’s not fair. It’s the same thing as with the ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) formula,” Watts said.

Besides Norwalk being a “loser” in that equation, Norwalk Center is a “loser” because council members from richer districts don’t want to pay for sidewalks, Watts said.

“We are being penalized because we are in the urban zone and we are clearly going to be outvoted,” Watts said. “… It’s not fair council members from other districts don’t feel our pain or our constituents’ pain, or pedestrians’ pain.”

“David, I hear you,” Petrini said. “People in the urban core, they are hurting. They don’t have the money. On the other hand, for us to raise our taxes up for the whole city for sidewalks, can’t do that either. I don’t know what the solution is, but at the very least I would like to proceed with this.”

Kimmel referred to the developing ordinance.

“Every town determines their own reimbursement system,” he said. “It’s a sliding scale based on ability to pay. So let’s be patient. We’re making progress in the discussion.”

Comments

19 responses to “Norwalk council: Sidewalk repairs inching closer”

  1. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Oh great, yet another study that will sit on the shelf with all the others that taxpayers have paid for and are then ignored. Why can’t DPW just make a list?

  2. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Sidewalks are a problem, I remeber someone speaking about the side walks on South Main Street at the 1st Mayor’s Night Out. You have to walk and push your child stroller in the street. It was told then it’s the responsibility of the homeowner,living in the house or out of town ? So now certain area can get side walks done with taxpayer money, oh I guess only if you know someone. South Norwalk (further down South Main Street)and not SONO have alway had funds that should have come missed directed. So my taxes I pay gets nothing.

  3. Don’t Panic

    This is ridiculous. All residents can make use of sidewalks anywhere in the city, just as they can drive on any road. Are we also going to force homeowners who don’t have sidewalks in front of their homes to install them, or is it just the lucky ones who already have sidewalks that will be forced to subsidize this public resource and risk property seizure by the City? There’s a pattern here of the council only pursuing ordinance enforcements that impose upon property owners while city services are being reduced at an alarming rate and quality of life issues that are not related to property ownership are barely enforced at all.

  4. Suzanne

    Don’t Panic, boy do I agree with you! Sidewalks, to conform uniformly to code, are NOT a resident’s problem. Rather, if the City wants every sidewalk to be safe, wide enough and constructed to code, they should do it out of the tax money we pay to ensure safe occupancy of our residences. That is, unless they want to do further studies and have a design created for every street.

    *
    Are they going to ask renters to pave sidewalks? Absentee landlords? Is this going to become a compliance issue where people will be “cited”, then “ticketed” then brought to court then…..what? Incarcerated all because the City did not do the job of a City and take care of sidewalks?

    *
    It feels like every time any issue of consequence comes up on these Committees or in Councils, further barriers are placed, like additional “studies” (have they never heard of “managing by walking around?” Perhaps they would learn a whole lot more about living in Norwalk if they did), and dates set way down the road when, again I am assuming, these same Councils or Committees assume the issue is defused and taxpayers won’t notice when they unilaterally decide (Mr. Alvord is a glaring example of this) what to do on our behalf.

  5. Peter Parker

    Amen to that Suzanne and Don’t Panic!

    The city is all wet on this issue, and meanwhile the taxpayers are drowning in the councils muck and mire, and the garbage being spewed by Alvord! Poor management of DPW and its dissemination of misinformation is obviously a big part of the problem, along with a council that can’t seem to get out of its own way, Republican and Democrat alike. And again I ask, where is the Mayor in all this? Wasn’t Rilling the one touting how sidewalks were a big part of his plan when he ran for office, or is that just another campaign promise forgotten? Quick someone get out a camera and maybe the Mayor will magically appear!

    What good is repaving the roads, if in the process the City plans poorly, runs out of money, and damages the taxpayers sidewalks? Then to make matters worse, the City attempts to repair the damaged sidewalks like a patch quilt (an example can be seen on Strawberry Hill and Dry Hill). Hence, leaving each taxpayer to incur the high cost of replacing their entire sidewalk, which in most cases was in acceptable condition before the City began the work! Something is wrong with this picture.

  6. Oldtimer

    Where, under CT law, is sidewalk repair the responsibility of private property owner. ? Law allows municipalities to pass along the responsibility for snow removal to “abutting property” owners, but where is sidewalk repair assigned to homeowners ?

  7. Tim D

    Sorry, but it’s kind of tough listening to Watts attempting to spend taxpayers monies on sidewalk repairs when it’s well documented that he doesn’t pay his own taxes. Whether he has a valid argument or not it’s awfully hard to look past delinquent tax bills as he proposes spending more.

  8. Peter Parker

    This is not about Watts, it’s about the taxpayers! If Watts doesn’t pay his taxes, let the tax collector follow protocol.

  9. Don’t Panic

    @Oldtimer, this is a good question, the controlling reg would appear to be CGS § 7-148 (6)(c) and it looks like the transfer to the homeowner is completely discretionary on the part of the municipality and can only be justified in conjunction with CGS § 7-148(c)(2)(G) (See explanation in a 2002 OLR Report at http://www.cga.ct.gov/2002/olrdata/pd/rpt/2002-R-0939.htm)
    CGS 7-148 can be found at:
    http://search.cga.state.ct.us/dtsearch_pub_statutes.asp?cmd=getdoc&DocId=5365&Index=I%3a\zindex\surs&HitCount=10&hits=60b+622+637+650+669+690+6d0+780+8a5+9ff+&hc=132&req=sidewalks&Item=9

    Other OLR reports that touch upon the subject are:
    http://www.cga.ct.gov/2007/rpt/2007-R-0224.htm
    http://www.cga.ct.gov/2002/rpt/2002-R-0380.htm

  10. Don’t Panic

    While we are on the subject it IS against state law to park on sidewalks, and enforcement in Norwalk on this issue is virtually non-existent. If you are going to hold the homeowners responsible for cracked and broken sidewalks, then the City should at least minimize the damage from contractors who park heavy trucks and equipment on the sidewalks of other homeowners.

  11. Peter Parker

    The City should stop its plows from pushing snow and ice with tons of salt mixed in onto peoples sidewalks. All that salt can’t be any good for sidewalks. The plows also rip up the sidewalks and curbs in the process of snow removal. Who should be responsible to pay for those repairs? Certainly not the homeowner.

  12. LWitherspoon

    Some parts of Norwalk have no sidewalks at all. Taxing those residents to fix sidewalks in other parts of the City is unfair.
    .
    I agree with Tim D that it’s tough to watch Councilman Watts attempting to increase City spending on anything, particularly when City Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli recently confirmed to NoN that Mr. Watts has delinquent tax bills stretching back to 2011. The video accompanying the other article on this subject featured Mr. Watts exhorting City staff to “find the funds … to make those repairs”. How about Mr. Watts “find the funds” to pay his delinquent tax bills?

  13. Suzanne

    Dear Don’t Panic, I couldn’t bring up the second link cited but in reading the other material it appears that liability for accident or injury on a sidewalk in a municipality, whether built by the landowner or town, rests with the town.

    *
    If I read that correctly, it would behoove Norwalk to phase in sidewalk repair or sidewalk creation, district by district in a uniform matter, code compliant, that would minimize the more hodge podge approach of individual residences being responsible.

    *
    I found the lien approach, imposed when sidewalks are not repaired by the landowner in a timely or appropriate way, another layer of punishment to the taxpaying citizen when City regulations, which should be maintained by the City, are not followed.

  14. Don’t Panic

    @Suzanne, the sections out of the long (broken) link to 7-148 are below, and according to the OLR must be read together to come to the interpretation that it is the homeowner who must pay to maintain their abutting sidewalks. In this instance, “prescribing” means that the municipality is making the decision, not the state. I haven’t found a more recent analysis, nor dug into any later dated court decisions that may be relevant, but the straight reading of the CGS does not appear to support council’s assertion that state law makes it the property owners’ responsibility, but instead grants the city the authority to decide that for itself.
    ——————————————————

    (c) Powers. Any municipality shall have the power to do any of the following, in addition to all powers granted to municipalities under the Constitution and general statutes:
    (6) Public works, sewers, highways.
    (C) Highways and sidewalks.
    (i) Lay out, construct, reconstruct, alter, maintain, repair, control, operate, and assign numbers to streets, alleys, highways, boulevards, bridges, underpasses, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, public walks and parkways;
    ————————————–
    (c) Powers. Any municipality shall have the power to do any of the following, in addition to all powers granted to municipalities under the Constitution and general statutes:
    (2) Finances and appropriations. (A) Establish and maintain a budget system;
    (G) When not specifically prescribed by general statute or by charter, prescribe the form of proceedings and mode of assessing benefits and appraising damages in taking land for public use, or in making public improvements to be paid for, in whole or in part, by special assessments, and prescribe the manner in which all benefits assessed shall be collected;

  15. Suzanne

    Thank you, Don’t Panic. I read it as the municipality has the choice to make the decision whether or not the taxpayer pays for the sidewalk improvement, that it is not proscribed or a fait accompli that they must. That is, the City could choose or are allowed to make it their responsibility as opposed to the taxpayer’s or vice versa. I do appreciate the time you took to look up these reference materials. Thanks again.

  16. Oldtimer

    “RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIDEWALK REPAIRS

    The state Supreme Court has long held that municipalities have no inherent powers but only those granted by the state (Old Colony Gardens, Inc. v. Stamford, 147 Conn. 60 (1939). Before 1982, the law specifically allowed municipalities to make the owners of property abutting sidewalks responsible for their maintenance and repair. If the owner did not make the repairs, the municipality could do the work, with the expense becoming a lien on the property, (CGS § 7-118, revision of 1977). However, PA 82-327 repealed this provision. The legislative history of PA 82-327, which dealt with a broad range of municipal powers, does not address the issue of sidewalk repairs, and we have found no case law relevant to your question. ”

    This is the relevant section of a response from the Ct office of Legislative research to a question about responsibility for sidewalk repair. There was law allowing a municipality to hold abutting property owners responsible for sidewalk repair, but it was repealed in 82. There continues to be authority in a different section, to require property owner to clear snow/ice, if the municipality has adopted such an ordinance.

  17. Oldtimer

    There are CT municipalities with ordinances making abutting property owners responsible for sidewalk repairs, but OLR has questioned the authority for these ordinances. Municipalities have no powers except those granted by the legislature, so these ordinances may not be lawful.

  18. piberman

    Doesn’t look there’ll be any energy or funds to fix City roads. Is the New Norwalk all about “sidewalks” – not jobs, taxes, property values, schools ?

  19. Peter Parker

    Sidwalks and road conditions directly effect property values, which should be very important to all taxpayers.

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