Kent residents voice complaints about condition of city’s sidewalks

Anna Duszkiewicz

It’s a sunny September day in Kent. The hum of a lawnmower can be heard in the distance. Students walk down the sidewalk of College Avenue, but they tread carefully, paying close attention to where they’re going as they navigate over the cracks and uneven pavement.

Samuel Rella, sophomore international relations major, lives on College Avenue and is concerned about the sidewalk conditions there.

“Just look around,” he said, motioning with his hand toward the street. “There have been so many people who have fallen down. It’s pretty bad.”

Despite these conditions, Alex Stebbins, sophomore hospitality management major, said he hasn’t seen the city fix anything on College Avenue.

“I don’t know what they’re doing on other roads, but they haven’t done anything here,” he said.

College Avenue residents are not the only ones with concerns.

Kent resident Danny Wendell lives on Rockwell Street and has called the city to complain about the condition of the streets.

“The roads are in bad shape,” he said, gesturing toward the cracked and uneven surface of Rockwell. “The city needs to do more to keep things up.”

City Engineer James Bowling said Kent residents have voiced their concerns about the conditions of the roads and sidewalks, and he said the concerns are legitimate. The city has heard the complaints and recognized the need for repairs. City council approved a plan Sept. 16 that will put more money toward street and sidewalk maintenance.

Still, Bowling said he can see why some residents feel as if nothing is being done.

“Most people look at their street and only their street,” he said. “I see noticeable improvement, because I’m looking at all the streets.”

Bowling said the city is indeed working to fix the problem areas. Because of budget constraints, however, the process is taking longer than most people would like, he said.

“If we had to dump a whole bunch of money to fix all the streets at once, you’re looking at $9-10 million,” he said. “The city doesn’t carry around $9-10 million to go around fixing streets. So it has to be planned over time.”

Bowling compared it to fixing a house.

“It’s no different,” he said. “You don’t just repair everything at one time. Sure, it would be nice to do, but most people don’t have that kind of money, and repairs need to be planned over time.”

Breaking it down

The city has recognized that more money needs to go into street and sidewalk maintenance, and plans are in motion to make that happen.

The engineering department tracks the condition of every street in Kent, Bowling said. The department ranks the streets on a scale of 1 to 100. In order for a street to be classified as “good,” the score must be at least 70. If the department was to bring every street in the Kent up to at least that score, Bowling said the city would need to spend $1.1 million per year.

The city of Kent brings in $10 million per year in income taxes. By charter, the city must spend 25 percent of that, or $2.5 million, on capital projects, which can include anything from purchasing a new fire truck to resurfacing a street.

Until now, Kent has been budgeting about $650,000 of that $2.5 million each year for street and sidewalk maintenance, Bowling said.

The city passes a five-year Capital Improvement budget each year that divides the $2.5 million between various capital projects and expenditures. The expense plan is updated yearly to be sure money is being distributed where it is needed most.

In the 2009 capital plan, which passed by City Council Sept. 16, the money allocated toward the street and sidewalk fund is slated to grow each year. In other words, a bigger portion of tax money is to go toward that cause.

In the current plan, $825,000 has been allotted for street and sidewalk maintenance in 2010.

Bowling said the goal is to get the yearly expenditure to reach $1.1 million in 10 years.

“The plan reflects the concerns that people have and the necessity for us to spend more to fix the streets,” he said.

The sidewalk issue

Bowling said the city is not responsible for a sidewalk’s upkeep. By code, property owners are accountable for it. Unless the sidewalk is in front of a business, Bowling said the city will pay for half of the repair. Still, the property owner must pay the other half.

“We don’t pay the full price to fix a sidewalk unless we cause the damage,” he said.

Bowling said the city has an inventory of sidewalk complaints dating back to 2005. With more money going into the street and sidewalk fund now, he said his department can begin working through the complaints.

“Hopefully next year we’ll start working on 2007 complaints,” he said. “Considering we started this year with 2005, I think we made some progress.”

Bowling said, as part of the sidewalk program, his department sends letters to residents, informing them they need to fix their sidewalk.

“Then they can either pay us a portion and we will fix it for them as part of our program,” he said. “Or they can hire somebody to fix it themselves.”

Those who refuse to do anything get the money assessed on their taxes, Bowling said.

As for College Avenue sidewalks, Bowling said they’re not that bad.

“I’ve walked College Avenue several times,” he said. “It’s not any worse than some of the other areas we have. It’s just a lack of money in part as to why we haven’t been able to address every single area yet.”

No concrete plans are in place to repair College Avenue sidewalks, but Bowling said the city recognizes the need to fix them and will do so as soon as possible. ??Bowling said people who have complaints about street or sidewalk conditions need to contact the engineering department and identify the area they are concerned about.

“We’ll add it to the list, and we’ll get to it as soon as we can,” he said.

If there is a true safety threat, Bowling said it will be repaired sooner.

“We’re not in the business of leaving safety hazards out there,” he said.

Although the city is addressing the issue, results won’t be instantaneous, Bowling said.

“I think people will see a noticeable change in the next couple years as we put more money into the streets,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected]