Waco City Council is weighing a new option as it seeks to accelerate its pace of building and replacing sidewalks.

City engineering staff Tuesday suggested a voluntary program allowing homeowners to apply to share the cost fifty-fifty with the city for sidewalks in front of their houses. The city would accept about $100,000 worth of repair work a year on a first-come, first-served basis and bid it with a single contractor.

The voluntary program would be in addition to the city’s existing capital improvement budget for sidewalks, which is typically about $250,000 a year.

Council members had mixed reactions to the idea but agreed to continue to study it.

“I’m really interested in this,” District 4 Councilman Dillon Meek said. “One of the calls I get most is about sidewalks. I think this could really expedite the process outside of the (capital improvement project) process.”

But Meek said the program might be unaffordable to lower-income neighborhoods that need sidewalks, and he would like to see how other cities have handled that issue.

District 3 Councilman John Kinnaird said he foresees an issue with getting enough people to sign up for the program to create a continuous sidewalk network.

“I’m supportive of increasing investment in active transportation,” Kinnaird said, referring to walking and cycling. “My concern with this one is that if one person’s sidewalk is great but everything on either side is not usable, what have we really accomplished?”

City Manager Dale Fisseler said that is an issue other cities have run into. It makes sense to do an entire block of sidewalk at a time, but if someone is unwilling to pay, a city must either try to force the landowner to pay or swallow the cost, Fisseler said.

“It’s a good program, and I think cities have success with them, but they’re not without complaints,” he said. “It seems like a simple program, but it gets complicated as you look at individual cases.”

City public works director Charles Dowdell estimated that the owner of a 60-foot-wide lot would have to pay $840 for a new 4-foot-wide sidewalk, but that appears to be a miscalculation based on using $14 per linear foot rather than a more realistic $14 per square foot.

At $14 per square-foot, the total cost of a 60-foot sidewalk would be about $3,360, and the homeowner share would be $1,680.

The city of San Antonio, which has a sidewalk match program, estimates a sidewalk cost of $60 per linear foot, which would add up to $3,600 for a 60-foot sidewalk. In San Antonio, homeowners in a federally designated Community Development Block Grant area only have to pay 30 percent of the cost, while others pay 50 percent.

The real cost of building a sidewalk can be much higher when considering the need to deal with trees, utility poles and tricky terrain, and corner lots would require an expensive handicap-accessible ramp. Dowdell said it is likely the city would have to pay for those extra costs.

In an interview, Mayor Kyle Deaver said he still has a lot of questions about how to make the program work fairly.

“Obviously, some neighborhoods are better equipped to afford sidewalks,” Deaver said. “The ones who need them most can least afford it. We’re a long way from having something definite. But there’s definitely a consensus on the council that we should enhance funding for sidewalks.”

Other business

In other business Tuesday, the council approved more than $4 million in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds for public improvements around three projects: the West Village hotel project, which will get $3.5 million; TFNB Your Bank for Life on Cleveland Avenue, which will get $301,345; and Brotherwell Brewing Co. in East Waco, which will get $216,863.

The council also discussed the Silo District Trolley, which has carried more than 119,000 people since it started in late July. Council members agreed that the trolley’s contribution to bringing in hotel and sales taxes into Waco justify continuing to fund it out of the city’s budget.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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