Bluff residents off the hook for sidewalk charges

Port council departs from longtime policy by voting 4-3 to reject assessments for residents in Hales Trail area

NEW SIDEWALK stretches for as far as the eye can see along Hales Trail in Port Washington, but residents of this neighborhood won’t have to pay for them, unlike people in other areas of the city who in the past were assessed for walkways when they were installed in areas where they had not existed. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Residents of Hales Trail and other bluff streets will not have to pay for the sidewalk that was recently installed, the Port Washington Common Council agreed on a 4-3 vote Tuesday.

The other bluff roads included in the decision are Crestview Drive and Sunrise Drive.

The decision — which breaks with decades of city policy regarding who should pay to install sidewalk in areas where there is none — also applies to residents on Thomas Drive and Sunset Road, roads that were part of the city’s 2021 street construction projects.

Since the city isn’t special assessing property owners for the work, the money paid for the sidewalks — on Hales Trail, Sunrise and Crestview, the total is about $119,000 — will have to be paid by the city.

For decades, the city has borrowed money to install sidewalks in areas where there were no walkways previously and assessed residents for the cost. The assessments could be paid over five years, with residents charged the same interest rate as the city — in this case 1.4%.

When the sidewalks need to be replaced, the city then picks up that cost.

The proposed assessments for the bluff sidewalks averaged about $3,000, City Administrator Tony Brown said, or about $500 annually.

But the topic of sidewalks has been a hot button issue, with residents through the years arguing that the walkways aren’t a benefit to them but to the general public — and that viewpoint seemed to carry the day Tuesday.

Voting not to approve a preliminary resolution declaring the city’s intent to special assess residents for sidewalks were aldermen Deb Postl, Paul Neumyer, Mike Gasper and Dan Benning.

Voting to assess residents were aldermen Jonathan Pleitner, Pat Tearney and John Sigwart.

“It serves the entire community and those who visit. The cost should be shared by everyone,” Postl said, noting the addition of sidewalks is “a change to the city’s infrastructure.”

Neumyer concurred, saying, “It’s a benefit to everybody in the city, as streets are. I think we have to revisit this policy.”

Gasper said that he wants to see the city install sidewalks throughout the community, but noted “Our biggest impediment is people objecting to it. There usually are two issues (the cost and maintenance, particularly shoveling snow). If the city would take on the cost of constructing it, it takes away one of those.”

But Pleitner argued that the city twice approved the bluff sidewalk project with the intent of assessing property owners for the cost.

“I would not have approved this twice. I remain in favor of special assessing for this project,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to add to the city’s debt service.

He also noted that the decision isn’t fair to residents who have been assessed and paid for sidewalks to be installed at their homes in the past.

“I would be extremely upset if we changed this now,” Pleitner said.

Postl replied, “I know we’re going to have people upset. But you can’t justify continuing with a bad idea.”

At some point in the past, she added, the city likely paid to install sidewalks, then changed that policy to require homeowners to pick up the cost, upsetting people.

Benning said he’s not in favor of special assessments for services unless the residents have requested the work — and the bluff area sidewalks are something many residents vehemently opposed.

He also noted that the city needs to work on its overall sidewalk policy.

“Are we going to change this policy for new developments (where sidewalks are required to be installed) or just in neighborhoods that didn’t have sidewalk before?” he asked.

Mayor Ted Neitzke, noting that the city has already spent the money and done the work, asked where it will find the money to pay for the work.

He suggested the council hold a “work session” to come up with a new sidewalk policy and a financing plan for walkways in the city.

But Sigwart suggested that the Board of Public Works come up with a plan for a sidewalk policy and the council deal with the financing options.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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