Marco Island to evaluate cost of taking over all sidewalk repairs
Marco Island City Council instructed City Manager Mike McNees to provide (in 45 days) an estimate of the city's expenditures if it chooses to take over all city-owned sidewalk repairs.
"I'm not willing to wait to budget time to come up with the cost estimates for what would the city be responsible for if we took over the sidewalk repairs and pay it ourselves," said Chairperson Erik Brechnitz during a City Council meeting March 2.
"I think that's the ultimate solution but I think we need to see the number."
City Council also instructed McNees to immediately implement a way to assist property owners with sidewalk repairs. Councilors commonly refer to it as 'option two' because it was the second of four options presented by McNees to council Oct. 7.
The city would issue annual bids for the various types of sidewalk repairs or reconstruction on a per square yard or other piece-rate basis, and subsequently provide a list of pre-qualified vendors to the property owners from which they could select, according to a city report.
"Ideally this would help lower prices for the property owner who is currently trying to price one small repair, as well as assist off-island owners in identifying vendors," according to the report. "Costs to the city would come in primarily in terms of the administrative effort to seek bids and further develop the vendor lists."
"Some consideration must also be given to ensuring that the city would not be endorsing or otherwise guaranteeing the work of individual vendors, rather simply qualifying them for participation."
In addition to the cost of repair or maintenance there may have been liens placed on properties due to code violations for failing to repair or maintain the sidewalk, according to the report.
"With regards to the liens, property owners can request mitigation of the liens. The city would be willing to reasonably mitigate some of the liens on the condition that the property owner complete(s) the sidewalk repairs."
Councilor Larry Honig said he is strongly in favor of the city taking over all sidewalk repairs.
"I think (if) the city owns the sidewalks, the city should be responsible for keeping the sidewalks in good repair," Honig said. "The city assesses what is wrong with the sidewalks now but the city has no incentive to be careful about those assessments because (it) is not responsible for the amount of money that it will take to fix (them)."
"That will change when it is the city's money."
Vice-chair Jared Grifoni also said he supports the city takeover option.
"It's kind of un-American to force citizens to pay for a piece of property [...] that they don't own," Grifoni said.
Councilor Howard Reed said he is wholeheartedly in support of the takeover.
"We just need to figure out how to pay for it," Reed said. "I think the money is there."
Councilor Charlette Roman said the city may face new expenditures.
"I think it's gonna lend itself into a contractor (or) an increase in public safety staff," Roman said. "We got to look what it would take [...] to maintain sidewalks on top of everything else."
Roman also mentioned the possibility of the city facing lawsuits if people fall on its sidewalks.
Councilor Victor Rios said it would not be fair if the city makes people fix the sidewalks in front of their properties now if it will later takeover the responsibility of fixing them.
"The people that are now maybe being taken to the (code) magistrate or are spending money in repairing the sidewalks ... If we are going to come in 45 days with a plan, what do we do with those people?" Rios said.
"I don't think it's fair so I would say if they have a citation now for a broken sidewalk we should put that in suspense."
Brechnitz quickly discarded Rios' suggestion to put on hold code enforcement citations regarding sidewalk repairs.
"We still have to get the sidewalks fixed while we are deliberating how we are going to go through this," Brechnitz said. "We can't just not fix sidewalks in need of repairs and have someone trip and have a lawsuit."
"Option two gives us the opportunity to continue fixing the sidewalks."
To address the fairness issue brought by Rios, McNees said the city could only take over the sidewalks that are up to code
"If a developer would be building a new subdivision he would build the public infrastructure on his money [...] and then they would give those roads to the city [...] constructed to our standards and in good condition," McNees said. "Then the city would assume the maintenance henceforth."
The city could do something similar but with the sidewalks, McNees said.
"If your sidewalk is up to standard it's the city's, if you have some repair that has to be done bring it up to standard and then it become the city's," McNees said. "That way every individual property owner has been responsible for the same thing."
"It's the most fair way."
Brechnitz said he did not know how could the city assess every single sidewalk it owns to determine whether it is up to city standards.
"Seems like a herculean task," Brechnitz said.
During a City Council meeting on Oct. 7, City Council instructed McNees to provide details for a proposal that would help residents with sidewalk repairs.
In 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.
There are currently 240 miles of sidewalk within the city limits and 24 miles or 10 percent of those are currently maintained by the city, according to the report.
"Based on our experience in the previous two years, and actual contract prices, we have spent an average of $90,103 or $3,755 per mile of 8-foot-wide sidewalk each year overall. It is reasonable to assume that if we increase the scope of the city’s sidewalk maintenance contract by nearly 10 times that unit pricing would fall for a number of reasons, including fewer mobilizations and fewer “short loads” of concrete."
It is nearly impossible to precisely calculate those effects but that discount is estimated to be 25 percent, according to the report.
"That brings the per-mile annual maintenance cost to $2,800, for an overall annualized total of $672,000, not calculating any administrative overhead."
Sidewalks have been an issue for locals but it exacerbated during the last few years.
The city's Code Enforcement division found 246 right-of-way sidewalk code violations between Jan. 1 and July 25 of last 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 was primarily due to people who take it upon themselves to report possible violations to Code Enforcement, according to Captain Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department, which oversees code enforcement.
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.
In an email to the Marco Eagle, Joel said that it all started when he was training for a hike last year.
"To train for this walk, I started walking daily on Marco Island sidewalks," Joel wrote. "In doing so, I met a few people that love to walk. As we got to know each other, they told me that there are many sidewalks that are damaged."
The former city employee said he suggested they report sidewalk problems to the city, but nobody wanted to do it.
"None were willing to do so as they were concerned that their name would be made public and they were afraid for repercussions from homeowners," Joel wrote. "I told them that if they would provide me the locations, I would provide them to the city."
Over a three month period during the second half of 2018, a group of eight walked the majority of sidewalks on Marco Island and provided to him the locations of potential sidewalk violations, according to Joel.
"My goal (is) to keep our community safe and when we observe an unsafe condition, report it to the appropriate authority," Joel wrote.
Joel said at the time he had not reported potential sidewalk violations since late 2018, and the list he gave the city was a 'one-time effort.'
"The sidewalk violations may have come down in volume in the past couple of months but it is still an important issue for our citizens," Grifoni said at the meeting on March 2. "The status quo is not acceptable."
Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.