“I would look at it as an insurance policy,” says Homayoon Pirooz, head of the city’s Project Management Unit. The “insurance policy” is Proposal 2 on the November 8 ballot: a .125 mill tax that would pay for a new city-run sidewalk repair program. It’s closely paired with Proposal 1, a renewal of the existing street-repair tax.
Right now, sidewalks are an unfunded mandate: homeowners are required to maintain them at their own expense. That wasn’t a big issue for many years, because inspections were rare. But in 2004, the Center for Independent Living sued to force the city to fix sidewalk curb cuts that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in 2005 the city began a comprehensive sidewalk inspection program. Since then, local homeowners have replaced 47,000 five-foot-square concrete “flags.”
If a contractor does the work, Pirooz says, $130 per flag is a good price. At that rate, residents have already spent more than $6 million dollars fixing sidewalks. Pirooz says that the sidewalk millage is a good idea nonetheless. For a typical home, worth $214,000, Proposal 2 would cost about $13 per year. “It will take ten years before you have to pay [in taxes] what you’d have to pay [a contractor] for one sidewalk square,” he points out.
For the city, he adds, the sidewalk program is a natural part of its “complete streets” philosophy, which aims to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists as well as automobiles. Also, the millage would eliminate the headache of dealing with sidewalk scofflaws, homeowners who ignore repair orders, forcing the city to do the work and then to add the cost to property tax bills.
Proposal 2 will take effect only if Proposal 1 also passes. Since Proposal 1 is a renewal, not a new tax, it’s likely to be less controversial. First approved by voters in 1984, the dedicated streets levy has been renewed without opposition ever since.
If both proposals pass, they will be combined into a single 2.125 mill tax beginning next July. The sidewalk portion is expected to generate $581,000 the first year for a budget of $563,999 after the DDA gets its cut.
Like the streets millage, it’s also slated to contribute 1 percent to the city’s public art program–though council will review that commitment later this month.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the November, 2011 Ann Arbor Observer. Our estimate of the amount citizens spent to repair sidewalks since 2005 has been corrected.