City of Missoula unveils makings of new sidewalk subsidy program

Missoula property owners facing a sidewalk replacement project could see their share of the cost reduced under a proposal presented to the City Council this week.

As presented, the measure would transfer funding from other sources into the sidewalk replacement program to cover street-related work, such as curb and gutter, and it would cap the cost passed on to a property owner at $9,000.

While the proposal remains a work in progress, it has the support of most council members.

“I’m very pleased with this,” said council member Jordan Hess. “We’ve done a lot of work to make our sidewalk program a success and share that burden citywide. This strikes a good balance and it controls the costs that were particularly high on corner lots. I’m glad we’re taking the road-related work out of the homeowner’s responsibility.”

In December, Missoula Mayor John Engen killed a proposed sidewalk replacement project in the Slant Street neighborhood after the costs came in too high. Several property owners living on corner lots were facing bills as high as $38,000, even after city subsidies were factored in.

Engen directed city staff to explore changes to the program, and those changes were revealed this week.

Money Sipe of Development Services said the new program would separate elements of the work into different funding sources.

Under the proposal, the city would pay for street-related work, including curb and gutter installation, asphalt, drainage and alley approaches. Doing so would lower the assessment passed on to property owners for the actual sidewalk work.

“The cap itself would increase overall road district funding, but when you look at the road-related improvements with other funding sources, it would actually reduce overall road district costs for the program,” Sipe said.

The cost to a property owner could be assessed over a number of years. Under the $9,000 cap, monthly payments would range from $153 for an 8-year assessment to $86 a month for a 20 year-assessment. The payments would decrease annually.

“This is primarily addressing those corners that get very expensive,” said Sipe. “To get benefit of the funding assistance, you have to pay into the district.”

Sidewalk costs have increased year-over-year since 2013, according to Sipe. Back then, sidewalk installation cost around $140,000 per mile, though it topped $300,000 in 2018.

Sipe said a number of factors are driving those increases, including the state’s prevailing wage, which has risen 2.75 percent on average each year. Material costs for constructing a 5-foot sidewalk have increased nearly 3 percent annually.

Council member Jesse Ramos said he plans to oppose the proposal.

“This is much more palatable for citizens, but I’m personally not in favor of it,” he said. “It still puts too much onus on the property owners. This is really going to hurt some homeowners. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it was.”

The City Council’s Public Works Committee voted to direct Development Services to prepare a resolution for the proposal. The measure will likely remain in committee for further discussion.

“We’re not done with this yet,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg.