PORTSMOUTH-City Officials are pondering a sidewalk replacement program to revitalize neighborhoods and improve property values around Portsmouth. During Monday evening’s City Manager Agenda Meeting, City Engineer Nathan Prosch said nearly half of property owners within Portsmouth are not currently compliant with sidewalk codes.
“We could send half of Portsmouth a notice of violation on their sidewalks,” said Prosch.
“A lot of it has to do with not understanding who is responsible for sidewalks,” explained Mayor and 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne. “Often, those looking at the problem ask why the city isn’t doing something. But, it’s actually the property owner’s responsibility (to replace sidewalks).”
Prosch explained he had done research on what other cities had done to combat their sidewalk problems.
“I looked at the City of Troy. They let their home owners choose to pay for sidewalk repair up front, or, pay it over the course of five years on their property taxes,” said Prosch, who suggested aligning the first phase of the proposed program with city paving projects. “We could send out letters to everyone, tell them they need to replace their sidewalks, and that they can do it themselves or opt-in to this replacement program. If they choose to do it, or if they are non-responsive, they would automatically be included in the project. Then, we would publicly bid the entire job.”
When a property owner is sent a letter of violation, they also have the opportunity to appeal the violation with the City Nuisance board.
“This is a great idea,” said Dunne. “Other cities are doing this bulk purchase of sidewalks and putting it on property taxes over a number of years…This is a fair way of doing it.”
While the sidewalk replacement program would likely save home owners money over paying for a contractor themselves, the city would likely be burdened with a large cost due to some properties with already delinquent property taxes being automatically enrolled.
“The question is, how do we fund this?” asked Prosch. “We will have to pay a contractor up front. So, the city will foot the bill and get reimbursed by property taxes.”
“In some ways, we will lose money. Some people won’t pay at all,” remarked Dunne. “Those that are delinquent on their taxes – sidewalk maintenance just isn’t a top priority in their life. So, if we build this we need money to operate it.”
“But this is an issue in public safety.”
To start the program during the next paving project, the City would need at least $285,000, according to Prosch. But, he says sidewalk maintenance is one of his top priorities as City Engineer.
“I’ve already gotten questions about this program. I would love more than anyone to replace all the sidewalks in town, but that’s not feasible. I want to tell everyone: this is the city prioritizing sidewalks. We will get to all the neighborhoods soon enough.”