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Marco Island City Council instructed City Manager Mike McNees to provide details for a proposal that would help residents with sidewalk repairs.

The city would ask sidewalk repair vendors to meet city bid requirements to bid for a larger volume of work.

"The city could do an overall bid and ask for unit pricing [...] so if a resident needed a vendor to work on their sidewalk they could go to a pre-approved list," McNees said during a City Council meeting on Oct. 7.

"That would be a convenience to the property owner to not have to chase the vendors themselves and theoretically, and I think in reality, would bring better pricing to the homeowners."

Another part of the proposal would make the city responsible for ordering and paying for sidewalk repairs. The city would then charge the home, condo or business owner for the repairs through taxes.

"That way, the city could have it done [...] and then assess them (owners) back as a non-ad valorem assessment and it would show on their tax bill," McNees said.

"You currently have that ability as an enforcement mechanism but you could offer it as a voluntary mechanism for property owners who are needing to have work done for their sidewalk."

On Marco Island, most homeowners are responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk immediately in front of their property, according to the city's code of ordinances. 

City Council also instructed McNees to bring more details about a separate proposal that would make the city in charge of all sidewalk maintenance.

The city currently owns 10 percent of the 240 miles of sidewalk in Marco, according to McNees.

"The highest involvement for the city would be to just take over the sidewalks completely," McNees said. "Once the property owner builds the sidewalk, which is required under your land development code, the city could take it on to maintain it."

It is difficult to estimate the cost of this proposal, according to McNees.

"The upper end of that is probably half a million to $600,000," McNees said. "If the council would like to explore that further as a preferred option, what I propose we do is [...] figure out exactly how we would need to amend the budget to do that."

Councilor Jared Grifoni said sidewalks have been a huge issue for the citizens of Marco Island but that it has been exacerbated lately.

The Eagle reported on Aug. 9 sidewalk violations soared in Marco Island amid a code vigilante.

In case you missed it: Sidewalk violations soar in Marco Island amid code vigilante

The Code Enforcement division of MIPD found 246 right-of-way sidewalk code violations between Jan. 1 and July 25 of this year, 146 more violations than in all of 2018. A right-of-way sidewalk code violation means the sidewalk is in some kind of disrepair or that the right-of-way is hindered or blocked

The rise in sidewalk code violations is primarily due to people who take it upon themselves to report possible violations to Code Enforcement, according to Captain David Baer of the Marco Island Police Department.

Rony Joel, a former director of Public Works and general manager of the Water and Sewer Department, led a group of residents in reporting close to 500 possible sidewalk code violations.

Grifoni said both proposals made sense but to leave things as they are is not an option.

"A status quo is unacceptable at this stage," Grifoni said.

Grifoni said he supports the first option if the interest rate for owners is set appropriately.

"We have to remember that minor repairs [...] for a lot of people they can be done," Grifoni said. "But when you get to bigger numbers, if you have to replace a significant portion of your sidewalk, that can get easily up to or over $10,000 or $15,000."

The city currently requires full replacement of every panel of the owner's sidewalk if 50 percent or more is damaged, according to Grifoni.

As for the second option, Grifoni said the council needs to think about it.

"It just seems un-American that this property that the city owns, you are required to maintain and you are required to replace in full," Grifoni said. "When you write that $15,000 check for a piece of property that isn't yours it's a tough pill to swallow for a lot of folks."

Grifoni said this option would have to be included in a referendum. 

City councilor Larry Honig compared sidewalk repairs to street repairs.

"We don't require individuals to maintain the roadway in front of their house at all, the city does it," Honig said. 

Honig said he supports the city taking over the sidewalks but that this requires establishing a budget for repairs. Honig said this could potentially be done by increasing the Code Enforcement budget to 2016 levels, adding $276,000.

City Councilor Howard Reed said the discussion about sidewalks is incomplete if the council does not talk about liability.

"You don't own the property under your sidewalk, you can't keep people off of it and you are required to maintain it and you are required to bear the liability," Reed said. "So if there is a crack on your sidewalk or two panels are displaced by a quarter of an inch, and someone trips, they will sue everyone they can find, they will certainly sue you and they will certainly sue the city." 

Reed said condo owners face less sidewalk repair costs and liability than single-family home owners.

"If you are in a condo with [...] 500 feet of sidewalk, and there is a hundred units, then you are responsible for five feet of sidewalk," Reed said. "That's not a lot of liability and that's not a lot of maintenance."

"If you are fortunate enough to be in a single-family residence next to a shared-use path that was paid for by a grant you get a free pass," Reed said. "You bear neither the maintenance nor the liability."

"That's just not fair." 

Reed said he is strongly in favor of the second option but was willing to support the first one as a way to transition to city owned sidewalks. Chairperson Erik Brechnitz and city councilors Victor Rios and Sam Young said they supported this strategy.

"I'm afraid that if we do a good job at implementing (the first option), we won't get around to implement (the second one)," Reed said.

City Councilor Charlette Roman said the council also needs to consider if it will require the city to comply with the same high standards for sidewalks as it does to Marco residents.

Roman said the second option should be considered on a later date and Rios said it could be considered for the 2021 city budget.

"The-right-of-way is owned by the city yet the homeowner is forced with the responsibility of the sidewalk," Young said. "I just think that's not right." 

March: Major changes coming to Marco Island sidewalk requirements

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