The City of Kimberley is currently working on a policy for the future of replacing and removing sidewalk infrastructure.
City Chief Administrative Officer, Scott Sommerville says the City is putting together the policy so there is more transparency in terms of what residents can expect with regards to the process of replacing or removing sidewalks.
“We’re putting it down on paper just to give some more transparency to the process, and decision making process, when we go to take out sidewalks and replace them,” Sommerville said. “Sidewalks are down to 31 per cent of their remaining life so they are an asset category that’s in rough shape. The only thing worse is our fleet, and we’ve invested significantly in our fleet in the last few years. The policy includes rationalization on different sidewalks and their groups; so depending on how much traffic there is on the road, proximity to schools, access to other trail systems and network of other alternate routes. It basically spells out the factors that we use in decision making on sidewalks.”
At a Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday, Nov. 6, Council discussed the policy so Sommerville can make changes and also create a sister policy with regards to the replacement of asphalt.
Sommerville also says that City staff aims to include a map within the policy, that would show the sidewalks they are planning to leave in the future and which areas of town require two sidewalks, one, or none, based on volumes of traffic.
Councillor Kent Goodwin agreed, saying it would be helpful to include the difference between arterial, collector and local sidewalks within the policy.
Councillor Albert Hoglund said he will not be voting to adopt the policy because of certain residents who previously paid for sidewalks to be installed, which are now being removed.
“I won’t be voting in favour of it strictly because I think it’s wrong that we’re taking out sidewalks where people had the local area service agreement to put the sidewalks in, and now all of the sudden we’re telling them their sidewalks are no longer needed,” said Hoglund. “People come to this community and we as a council have said, ‘it’s a good place to be’. People buy houses and get their property assessments with the sidewalks there and then all of the sudden one, two, three years down the road the sidewalk is no longer there. I think we’re doing the wrong thing here.”
Hoglund says he didn’t have a problem with the other areas of the policy, expect when it comes to the safety of children.
“In Townsite the sidewalks are terrible. No one uses sidewalks up there anyways,” Hoglund said. “I talked about 7th Avenue in the 400 block – there should probably be a sidewalk there. A lot of school kids use it and we get a lot of snow in Townsite. Now they’re going to be walking on the roads because whoever had a sidewalk in front of their house is not going to shovel it now; it’s a dirt path. I don’t think the City can make people shovel it because it’s not a sidewalk anymore.”
Councillor Darryl Oakley says he has a slightly different take on it.
“I’m not completely sold on this, and I have some concerns. I’m going to use the 100 block of Norton Avenue as an example. If you look at the straight financials of the cost of replacement of our infrastructure of sidewalks – just to replace what’s currently there – then it’s obviously big trouble for us,” said Oakley. “It’s major increases every year percentage wise on our taxes. If you look at the local service area, in an agreement with the 100 block, they paid extra tax within their neighbourhood to get a sidewalk in and then we took it out to replace infrastructure, which had to happen.”
Oakley says his concern revolves around determining the service life of concrete.
“How do you determine that you’re past the point of the service life of that concrete? Is it when the loan is up? After 15 years of payment by the neighbourhood? If that’s the case then to me, the concrete is not done yet. It might go 50 years,” said Oakley. “I can understand the argument from the 100 block of Norton, for example. I think that what should be found here is some common ground that totally respects that when the City replaces infrastructure like this, they cannot keep the status quo. Our taxes would be double digit every year – it’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to support that when it comes to budget time, but I think that you have to try to find something that factors in the engineering, the safety of the children and the value of homes…The reason I keep coming back to this is when the neighbourhood did pay [extra] tax for a sidewalk on the 100 block of Norton, I have not heard that they were told that after the payment is finished, your sidewalk is done. If we need to take it out, we take it out.”
“I’m certain that 30 years ago, no one was told that 30 years from now your sidewalk might be in jeopardy,” replied Sommerville. “They also weren’t told that they’d have a huge infrastructure deficit. It’s fairly modern and thrifty thinking. If money were no object, I’d put a sidewalk on both sides of every street. We’re trying to find a balance here.”
Mayor Don McCormick says the reasons for sidewalk removal are clear and that sidewalks are not ubiquitous in Kimberley.
“The policy says it’s on a case by case basis, it’s fairly well laid out,” said McCormick. “At the end of the day sidewalks in this City are not ubiquitous. We have tonnes of neighbourhoods that don’t have sidewalks. The reasons for the removal are clear. They are providing better services as a result of the sidewalk actually coming out. Personally, I have a problem with a tax payer in one part of the City that has no sidewalks, having to pay for sidewalks for tax payers in other parts of the City. It’s not like roads, or sewer, or water, or the ubiquitous services where everybody has them.”
McCormick says that a large percentage of the City doesn’t currently have sidewalks and Council can’t keep raising taxes to pay for things like sidewalk infrastructure.
“This [policy] is driven by having to do things differently to be able to afford to pay for the things that we’re paying for. We just can’t keep going back to the taxpayers and upping the tax bill every time we need money to do things. I can pretty much guarantee, it doesn’t matter what street we’re talking about in the City, if somebody has a sidewalk out front of their house, nobody wants to have that sidewalk removed. There is no debate about that. There are circumstances and good reasons for us to do that. It’s not an easy thing, it’s not black and white and it’s not something that is going to make everybody happy.”
Councillor Bev Middlebrook pointed out that there are areas currently without sidewalks that pose safety concerns, such as in Marysville in front of the Petro Canada gas station.
“I’m talking about safety. I’m watching all the kids come from school and they’re walking along a highway in front of Petro Can and there’s no sidewalks. They’re crossing the street and I think to myself, there are certain places that should have sidewalks without any debate. For safety, for kids etc.”
Goodwin agreed, “if we put this policy on paper, there may be places in town where we aren’t living up to the standards that are here for arterial or collector streets, where there aren’t sidewalks on both sides where there should be, or that there should be a sidewalk on one side and there isn’t. We will have pressure to put those in. It might be worthwhile to have a look and see if there will be any issues with that.”
“I would hope we would have some pressure to put sidewalks in some areas,” said Sommerville. “This policy is really speaking to the replacement of sidewalks. But with the establishment of the local service area, Council can factor in things like, is it local traffic or is it through traffic on the sidewalk, and we can determine the percentage that the city is willing to pay based on how much of a shared sidewalk it is. I tried to keep some flexibility in there.”
Council will continue to discuss and develop the policy further before officially adopting it at a Regular Council Meeting in the future.