Baker City's sidewalk fee has made meaningful progress toward fixing the city's dilapidated walkways, and at a modest price.
The fee, instituted in 2008, collects $1 per month from households, and $2 per month from businesses. This amounts to about $50,000 per year.
The city makes 75 percent of the money available to property owners to pay a portion of the cost to repair or replace sidewalks.
The city uses the remaining 25 percent on projects on public property - examples include sidewalks at Geiser-Pollman Park, and the current project to replace the sidewalk in front of Crossroads Carnegie Art Center (a different source is paying to replace the steps at the Art Center).
Although the sidewalk fee will pay as much as $1,250 for a single project ($1,500 for corner lots with sidewalks on two sides), relatively few people took advantage of the program in 2012.
The city reimbursed property owners for 2,041.5 square feet of sidewalk construction last year, well below the average of 7,366 square feet for the previous three years.
The significant decline in applications in 2012 has prompted the City Council to consider ending the fee, at least temporarily, until a significant amount of the $80,000 the city has stockpiled is distributed.
We don't think that's necessary.
What is necessary, obviously, is figuring out how to entice more property owners to use some of the fee dollars to offset the cost of repairing or replacing sidewalks.
The City Council should discuss increasing the per-project limit from the current $1,250/$1,500.
And councilors should ask city staff to revamp the sidewalk ordinance so that money is available when the work is being done. Under the current system, the property owner has to go through the entire process of hiring a contractor, having the sidewalk built, signing an affidavit and having a city employee inspect the finished work. Only then does the city reimburse the property owner.
We're not suggesting that the city just write a check to anyone who says they want to fix a sidewalk, of course.
But the ordinance can be rewritten to be more user-friendly.
Even with grant dollars, sidewalk work constitutes a major expense for most city residents. The city should try to make the process as easy as possible. The money isn't improving our neighborhoods while it's languishing in a bank account.