Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Several city blocks in the Riverfront Neighborhood will see a number of right-of-way improvements under a greenway project approved by members of the City Council on Wednesday.

Still, disagreement over who should fund the project's sidewalks remained in play, as several properties within the project area will be assessed roughly 15% of the cost.

Brandt Dahlen, the surface project coordinator for the city, said the right-of-way improvements will extend from Rose Park to the Riverfront neighborhood along Ivy and Franklin streets. It's set to undergo construction this year with a bid of $1.3 million.

“It will construct around 5,000 feet of sidewalk and associated improvements,” said Dahlen. “It also builds new curbs, traffic calming circles, bulb-outs and trees.”

The design agreement dates back to 2021 and the project was approved by City Council last year. And while the project only received a single bid, it was 20% lower than initial estimates.

Of the 48 parcels that line the route, 41 will be assessed their share of the improvements. Of those parcels – and with the bid secured – 15 assessments remain unchanged while 26 other parcels are now lower than the engineer's estimates.

None of the parcels increased, Dahlen said. Still, the average assessment sits at around $3,500.

“The assessment component is approximately 15% of the total construction contract cost,” Dahlen said. “The remaining 85% will be paid for from the city's road district and gas tax.”

While residents will only pay a percent of the total cost of the sidewalk work, council member Daniel Carlino believes they should pay nothing and the city should fund the entire cost.

“I don't feel comfortable voting to order the individual households to pay thousands of dollars for sidewalks,” Carlino said. “It's public infrastructure and I think the city should pay for the sidewalks and not burden individual households.”

Funding city sidewalks has been an issue for the past decade and the City Council has worked to improve and amend its sidewalk program.

A decade ago, property owners were responsible for 100% of the cost, at least until former Mayor John Engen paused the program after property owners were confronted with bills as high as $34,000.

After several changes, the City Council adopted a subsidy program that caps a property-owner's cost at $9,000 and offers a range of ways to pay. Among them, they can pay over eight-, 12- or 20-year increments. They can also defer the entire cost until the property sells or changes ownership.

“The current formula was greatly modified in 2020, and we haven't had enough time to even see that in action yet,” said council member Gwen Jones.