Bexley sidewalk assessments recommended by service committee

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Big wheels in Bexley buy police bike

The First Bank of Bexley, at 2680 E. Main St., has donated $800 to the city’s police department for the purchase of a specially equipped bicycle for officers to use on patrol. Taking part in the April 29 presentation are, from left, Dave Mallett, chief executive officer; Mayor John Brennan; Chief Larry Rinehart; and Martin Westfall, the bank’s president and chief financial officer. Counting the chief’s own ride, it will be the second bike used by the department with silent gears to allow an officer to approach a crime scene unheard, and headlights and flashing lights. Rinehart, who emphasizes community policing, would like to have two more bikes available so there can be one for every shift. Bryan Wood, a Reynoldsburg Boy Scout, is raising funds for the department to buy another bike as part of his Eagle Scout project. This is the second time the bank has contributed to the police department, having donated $400 for its officer appreciation event. Rinehart will make the purchase from Bike One, in Gahanna, which has provided police bikes at a discount.

Bexley City Council’s service committee voted 3-0 April 29 to recommend a return to assessing homeowners for sidewalk repairs, and the other members appear ready to fall in step behind the policy reversal.

"The city doesn’t have the money it had four or five years ago," when a 2.5-mill street levy was approved by voters, explained Councilman Jed Morison before joining Jeff McClelland and Rick Weber in voting for the return to assessments.

Following the passage of the levy, which generates about $860,000 a year for the repair of streets, alleys, curbs and sidewalks, a group of residents pushed for an end of the 50-year practice of assessing property owners, arguing that it was a form of double-taxation.

Council was swayed at the time, while maintaining that fixing streets, and not sidewalks, was the main thrust of the levy.

"The entire campaign revolved around streets," McClelland argued. "There was no mention that sidewalks would be targeted."

After assessments were ended, sidewalks were repaired only on the four or five streets slated for repairs that year, or when a safety issue arose.

In the interim, the cost of repairs has gone up while the levy amount has stayed the same, causing the city to fall behind on needed repairs, representatives noted.

Councilman Ben Kessler pointed out that the cost of petroleum, the main ingredient in asphalt, has more than tripled since the passage of the levy in 2002.

"At some point, there has to be an added expense to cover inflation," Kessler said.

City Attorney Lou Chodosh offered a legal opinion that the wording in the ordinance on the levy does not limit the city’s ability to raise money for repairs in other ways.

And the city charter allows council to amend any ordinance, including the one that repealed assessments, Chodosh offered.

Resident Nancy Duffy, who led the effort to end assessments for sidewalks, continued to contend that the city had no authority to levy a tax for sidewalk repairs.

And since it’s a permanent levy, the money keeps rolling in and the city has plenty of money for repairs, she said. "There is no such thing as falling behind."

Cathy Della Flora, a North Merkle Avenue resident, complained that no work has been done on her street in more than 20 years, and questioned why residents should have to foot the bill because the city has run short of funds.

Della Flora also charged that elected officials have personally benefited from repairs near their own properties, an accusation they vehemently denied.

North Parkview Avenue resident Frank Kass spoke in defense of council’s decision to return to assessing homeowners.

"You can’t milk a stone," Kass said of the finite levy amount. "You have a given number of streets, a given number of dollars and a given number of residents. I feel the infrastructure is deteriorating quicker than the city’s ability to fix it."

Service Director Bill Harvey said that the $850,000 earmarked for streets is half of what the city should be spending on street repairs.

An engineering study two years ago recommended that Bexley needs to spend $1.5 million a year through 2013 to get the streets "anywhere close to what would be considered good," according to Harvey.

And that’s in 2006 dollars, he added.

Getting hit all at once with a big repair bill is what worries Marilyn Long, a South Cassingham Road resident who lives on a corner lot.

Her property abuts 55 sidewalk squares, while the average home borders 10 to 12, she told council. "I’m scared to death of this."

Kass suggested that a provision be included to allow residents who can’t afford a big repair bill to pay over time on their tax duplicates.

Weber responded that such an allowance had been included when assessments were in place.

The next step will be to introduce an ordinance that would amend the law that eliminated assessments, Weber said.

And the service department will have to determine how it will go about inspecting sidewalks and marking those in need of repair or replacement.

Previously, crews marked the damaged blocks with an "X," making it the homeowner’s responsibility to either repair the sidewalk themselves, or have city workers make the repairs, with the cost added to the tax bill.

Sidewalks marked with a "C" noted that it was the city’s responsibility for repairs.

Crews would inspect one of three sections of the city every year on a rotating basis.

Whether the assessments will resume this year or next spring depends on how quickly council acts on the legislation, allowing bids to be secured, Harvey said.

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