Missoula City Council increases sidewalk subsidy to $20K

The Missoula City Council increased the city’s sidewalk subsidy cap from $15,000 to $20,000 on Monday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Ward 3 Missoula City Councilwoman Gwen Jones knows that sidewalks can be a pricey surprise for homeowners who live in neighborhoods without them.

So she sponsored a resolution increasing the money the city is willing to contribute to the hefty assessment homeowners receive when new or repaired sidewalks come their way.

It passed the City Council unanimously on Monday night.

In brief, the vote increased Missoula’s sidewalk subsidy cap from $15,000 to $20,000.

But that’s not the whole story.

Here’s more:

In 2012, after considerable public outcry, the City Council established a funding assistance program for curb and sidewalk assessments for public right-of-way construction projects.

In other words, if you owned a home and the city decided to pour or replace sidewalks on your property, you could get a subsidy to help bring down the oftentimes high cost of the work.

But prices have increased since 2012, and homeowners are again facing exorbitant bills for sidewalks, said Jones, who introduced the measure in April. Sidewalks had gotten prohibitively expensive, in fact, for the owners of larger, corner lots.

The cap needed raising by $5,000, Jones said.

Now, this is how sidewalks are financed:

  1. The city of Missoula pays the first $1,000.
  2. The city and the property owner each pays 50 percent of the costs above $1,000, until the property owner’s assessment reaches $3,500.
  3. After the property owner assessment reach $3,500, the city pays 100 percent of the cost until the cost reaches $20,000 – the new, higher cap.
  4. The property owner pays anything over $20,000.

“As construction costs have risen in the last five years, this raise in the cap is now justified, as it will have minimal impact on the city of Missoula, yet have a very large impact on the homeowners who live on corners and face extreme costs to replace or install aging or missing sidewalks and curbs,” Jones wrote in a memo to council members prior to Monday night’s vote.

“Based on the past few years of applying the sidewalk subsidy, there typically are a small number of private single dwellings who are situated on corners and face a large bill over the $15,000 cap,” she said. “By raising it to $20,000, it will dramatically help those homeowners in that situation.”

The sidewalk subsidy was among 11 items on the consent agenda, which means all the items are voted on simultaneously.

Also approved was the date – July 10 – for a public hearing regarding the annexation and zoning of property in Lower Miller Creek where Missoula County Public Schools wants to build a new Cold Springs School.

The property is west of Lower Miller Creek Road and north of Bigfork Road.

MCPS requested the annexation.

Missoula voters approved a bond issue that will pay for the school’s construction.