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Once resolved, debate on funding Missoula’s sidewalk needs resurfaces

With new council members in place, the never-ending issue over who should pay for sidewalks resurfaced on Monday as a proposal to build infrastructure in downtown Missoula moved ahead.

The city last had a long discussion over sidewalks in 2019, when it became evident that its present approach was putting too much of the burden on landowners. As a result, the city changed its policy to more evenly split the cost of sidewalks with property owners.

The problem looked to be resolved until Monday, when two new council members rejected a plan to upgrade the right-of-way along Eaton Street. New sidewalks, curb and gutter, a bus stop, storm water and highway upgrades are all part of the $760,000 project.

Property owners in the vicinity will contribute $77,000 of the overall cost, or around 10% of the total cost. However, under present policy, none of the 61 property owners in the impacted region will be required to pay more than the $3,500 ceiling, and there are numerous choices for paying that over time.

“We’ve amended that programme at least twice in the previous couple of years to further cut the homeowner component and reduce the out-of-pocket limit,” said Jordan Hess, a council member. “It’s still a lot of money, and I’d want to acknowledge that.”

Mayor John Engen cancelled a planned sidewalk reconstruction project in the Slant Street area in 2018 because the prices were too expensive. Even once municipal subsidies were taken in, certain property owners residing on corner properties faced payments of up to $38,000.

One linear foot of sidewalk might cost more than $70 to rebuild.

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The following year, the city revised its Pedestrian Facilities Master Plan in order to identify more fair methods to divide the cost with homeowners while without raising taxes on the general public. As a consequence, funds from other sources were shifted into the sidewalk repair programme to cover street-related work such as curb and gutter.

It also set a limit on the amount of money that may be passed on to a property owner. However, many new City Council members want to review that approach, and they moved to remand the Eaton Street project to committee on Monday night.

That endeavour, however, was a failure.

“To suggest that now is not the time to discuss policy is incredibly short-sighted and disappointing,” said Kristen Jordan, a recently elected council member. “We need to come up with a new means to finance these things.” “I’m worried about the expense to homes.”

Sidewalks have long been a source of contention in Missoula, with virtually all council members agreeing that they symbolise equality and should be available to all residents. However, as things are, the city has more than 200 miles of missing sidewalk.

In 2019, the cost of constructing a new sidewalk was $68 per linear foot, while the cost of replacing and repairing an existing sidewalk was $69 per foot. Since then, the prices have risen.

“Sidewalks are something we need, but they’re costly to finance,” said Amber Sherrill, a council member. “But tonight, we’re enforcing policy, not establishing it.” It’s a mistake to piecemeal, and it’s especially inequitable if we do it project by project. This is the policy we now have.”

On Monday, further potential faults in the city’s present sidewalk design were revealed. Council member Mike Nugent proposed that a buyer of a new house in Missoula pay for the whole cost of the walkway next to their property.

Those who already own a house, on the other hand, get some government assistance, he adds.

“When we speak about housing costs, with new construction, the homeowner is being passed 100% of those sidewalk fees right now,” he added. “There is little demand for raising taxes to build new sidewalks.”