Missoula Mayor John Engen on Friday called for a review of the city’s master sidewalk program – including new ways to pay for sidewalks – following citizen outcry over a proposed project in the Slant Street neighborhood.
In a written announcement, Engen said the Slant Street sidewalks’ projected high costs and the financial burden placed on property owners – in one case nearly $40,000 – were out of control and unconscionable.
“Sidewalks are an important part of our transportation system, and we need more of them, but we can’t break the banks of adjacent property owners to build them,” Engen said in the announcement. “We’ve been working with an imperfect system for a long time, and the Council has worked hard to temper costs, but the price of the program is out of hand. We need to create a better, more equitable method for building and paying for sidewalks.”
He continued: “If I got a letter from the City telling me I was going to be billed $40,000 for a sidewalk the day after Thanksgiving, I’d be mighty concerned. Our hard-working staff was just following our policy, but letters like that land with a thud.”
Engen ordered an internal review of the city’s sidewalk program – for years a bone of contention with homeowners and City Council members – and hopes to have a “less expensive, strategic sidewalk plan” ready for the 2020 budget cycle next summer.
He blamed the increasing cost of materials and “a challenging bid environment,” as well as a tight city budget with the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure citywide.
“Citizens aren’t happy with the program, Council members aren’t happy with the program, staff members aren’t happy with the program and, it turns out, I’m not happy with the program,” Engen said. “We can, and will, do better.”
At least one of the Slant Street homeowners who led the charge via social media was pleased with the steps taken Friday afternoon.
“Thank you to Twitter & FB friends, and the S. O. , & Mayor Engen and my parents (who taught me to be a big mouth & stand up for myself.),” homeowner Kathleen Kimble wrong on Facebook. “EGREGIOUS SIDEWALK BILLS ARE ON HOLD FOR NOW, IMMEDIATE PROJECT CANCELED. City will work on better kinder formula for paying for sidewalks/ curbs.”
Kimble, however, urged local residents to stay involved in the process, lest they again be saddled with sky-high sidewalk assessments.
The Missoula City Council’s Public Works Committee will meet as planned on Wednesday, Dec. 12, to discuss the program and hear from citizens and staff.
The Slant Street sidewalk project has been rescinded and pulled from City Council consideration. The Wednesday committee meeting, which was to have focused on the Slant Street proposal, will now look at the overall sidewalk replacement and financing program.