The Long and the Short of It
For sidewalk information: Peggy Berg (404) 512-9142; firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Atlanta, sidewalk maintenance is the legal responsibility of the property owner. Such repairs may be done privately – which requires individual permitting applications for every repair, a cumbersome and costly deterrent to many citizens – or by City contractors. The City has done sidewalk repairs and replacements at $3.90 per square foot for many years; basically, this is the cost of the concrete, pour and finish.
The City spends closer to $10 to $12 per square foot including demolition, erosion control and related costs. We understand the City is revising the amount it charges property owners from $3.90 per sq. ft. to $10 – $12 to cover its costs. New pricing will go into effect with the City’s new budget on July 1. If the sidewalk abutting your property is in poor condition, now is the time to have it replaced.
The City has also been considering requiring homeowners who have broken sidewalks to have them repaired at the new higher price. The City faces significant litigation costs because so many people get hurt on our broken sidewalks. It needs sidewalk repairs for pedestrian safety and to control legal costs.
If repairs are made under today’s pricing – requiring payment by June 15, 2013 – the average Virginia-Highland homeowner’s cost would be about $1,200. When the new budget goes into effect, the cost to repair that same sidewalk could be $3,600 or more.
The VHCA is organizing a bundle of sidewalk repairs before the higher pricing goes into effect. The association will get you a price for your sidewalk and will also act as intermediary with the city to get the repairs made. If you cannot afford to participate, the VHCA has limited funds available on a first-come-first served basis to help. The VHCA can match up to $500 for neighbors with a financial need, while funds last.
To participate at today’s cost we need to have your check for the repairs no later than June 15.
To participate, or if you have any questions, contact Peggy Berg at (404) 512-9142 or email@example.com.
The Long (Some History and Context):
Over the last 30 years, the challenge of improving sidewalks has been an enduring one for the residents of this community and for the Virginia-Highland Civic Association. The newsletters of the last three decades are full of stories on the subject.
Some municipalities pay to fix sidewalks from the general fund, collecting taxes from all property owners to cover the cost. Other cities, including Atlanta, make property owners responsible for sidewalks abutting their property rather than sharing the cost across properties with and without sidewalks. Given Atlanta’s budget and reluctance to increase property taxes, it seems likely that abutting property owners will continue to be responsible for their sidewalks.
In theory, the city can cite property owners, make repairs independently if the owner fails to act, and charge the property owner for the cost of repairs. In fact, the city has never made a systematic effort to require abutting property owners to fix sidewalks. But that may be changing.
The City is under increased pressure to improve sidewalks for several reasons. First, the sidewalk system has been allowed to deteriorate for so long that it has become a real problem for pedestrians. Second, broken and uneven sidewalks are dangerous; people fall and get hurt and sue the city, which is now dealing with many lawsuits and millions of dollars in liability losses. In addition, Federal ADA legislation requires sidewalk improvements; Atlanta is not in compliance.
Without a budget for sidewalks, and with increasing pressure from citizens who like to walk, from the courts and from the Federal government, the City needs a way to get sidewalks repaired. We are informed that pressuring property owners to comply with regulations and pay for repairs is one approach being considered. As an inducement, the City may also be considering ways to facilitate such payments by making it possible to pay for the repairs over time. Either approach would be better than the status quo; neither is certain.
We note the obvious: it is fundamentally wasteful of taxpayer dollars to spend millions on lawsuits and to budget no money at all to repair the sidewalks that are the underlying cause of the losses. The proposed 2014 City budget has not been adopted, but its current version contains no sidewalk line item, we are informed.
For years, the City has charged property owners $3.90 per square foot for sidewalk replacements – about $1,200 for a typical Virginia-Highland sidewalk 55 feet long and 5-6 feet wide. Unfortunately, revenue at that level only covers the cost of the concrete, poured and finished; it does not include the other costs of demolition, removal, grading, erosion control, insurance, etc. The City is planning to increase the charge to abutting property owners in order to cover their analyzed full costs, which will increase the fee to $10 to $12 per square foot, about $3,600 for the same size sidewalk calculated above.
Independent of city enforcement, VHCA has offered a variety of enticements over the years that offered to share costs of sidewalk repairs with homeowners. Those programs have usually been vigorously debated within the Board, with proponents pointing out that we all benefit from the walkability and safety of good sidewalks and opponents believing that all owners ought to meet their own responsibilities. A few – but not many – citizens have fixed their sidewalks with the assistance of the association.
As it turns out, unless a homeowner is doing a larger project, it’s not at all easy to find a contractor who’s willing to go through the considerable challenges of permitting a small repair without charging a (fair but hefty) fee for all the time required. It’s been a very real challenge, which has stopped many residents from repairing their sidewalks and induced others to do the work without permits or inspections.
Last year VHCA started a program to have neighborhood sidewalks repaired in bundles. Not surprisingly, it’s more cost effective for the City to do a bundle of sidewalks close together than to do single sidewalks one at a time scattered around the City. The VHCA canvassed owners along St. Charles Avenue and its cross streets (an area of particularly dire need) and an uncertain Board was convinced to subsidize part of the bill for those who needed help. A total of 31 sidewalk segments were in the bundle and VHCA delivered payment to the City on August 23, 2012. That bundle is scheduled to have concrete poured by early June.
When the City triples the price, it will be even more difficult for the neighborhood association to promote sidewalk repairs. With this in mind, we are assembling one final bundle of sidewalks prior to June 15 to take advantage of the $3.90 pricing that will soon be a thing of the past. The bundle is open to the entire neighborhood. If you have a sidewalk that needs repair, now is the time to get it organized. To participate in the bundle:
- Contact Peggy Berg at (404) 512-9142 or firstname.lastname@example.org and give her your address.
- She will get you a price for your sidewalk.
- Get Peggy a check made out to City of Atlanta.
- VHCA will manage the process with the City. Based on existing experience, we expect it to take about a year to get the sidewalks poured. It may happen sooner, but please note that we don’t directly control that.
- If you are financially unable to participate, the VHCA can help. For those with a financial need, the association will share the cost up to $500. We have $14,000 available to help people who could not otherwise participate. First come, first served.
This is a chance to fix your sidewalk at a price that’s a lot cheaper than it will be in the future. That’s a real benefit to everyone; this is a community of walkers, which is good in all the obvious ways. We will be safer and more active with good sidewalks.
Call or email Peggy Berg with any questions about our sidewalks and about getting your sidewalk fixed. (404) 512-9142 or email@example.com.