Segments of sidewalk show signs of fresh repairs along Sorrento Boulevard in Sterling Heights.

Segments of sidewalk show signs of fresh repairs along Sorrento Boulevard in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Officials discuss sidewalk repair billing

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 21, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The path to repairing Sterling Heights’ sidewalks has a price tag, but city officials discussed different options that the city could take in billing properties in a fair manner.

During the March 16 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, resident Charles Jefferson asked the city how residents get billed for sidewalk repairs because “there’s a lot of people tripping about the sidewalk repairs.”  

Councilman Michael Radtke said he talked to several residents recently about sidewalk assessments. After doing so, he said the city should establish a better sidewalk funding model.

“Right now, when we repair your sidewalk, the city bills homeowners, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars, especially if you live on a corner or have two sidewalks in front of your house,” he said.

Radtke said he would prefer treating sidewalks the way the city treats city streets. He suggested that the city could tax a home around $5-$10 annually and pool all that money for needed sidewalk repairs.  

Radtke said that he has pushed for an idea like this before and added that sidewalks are public thoroughfares that are used by everyone, not just the nearest homeowner.

“It’s just like insurance — you pay a little bit now so you don’t get socked later,” he said. “I think this funding model is both easier, and it will take the burden off, especially people on a fixed income. It hurts a little bit up front to pass it, but in the long run, it would benefit the entire city.”

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko asked City Manager Mark Vanderpool whether homeowners can arrange a repair contractor on their own. She also wanted to know how the city determines which sidewalks are targeted for inspection and repair.

Vanderpool said residents may arrange sidewalk repairs on their own, though he said the city’s pricing is “very favorable,” is covered by warranty and can be financed over a five-year period.

He added that the city has a list of completed areas, and it picks “manageable construction areas” that can be completed in a single construction season. He said that, prior to COVID-19, the city focused locally on Utica Road to Metropolitan Parkway, and between Dodge Park and Utica roads.

“So we just have this rotation schedule that we move across the city, and then after about 20 years or so, we repeat it,” the city manager said.

Councilwoman Deanna Koski proposed an idea where the city could pool money into an account when a contract’s bid for sidewalk repairs is cheaper than the city’s budget for that project. That account could help ease some homeowners’ burdens for unusually expensive sidewalk repair projects, she said.

Vanderpool considered the council members’ ideas.

“If we could ever shift that to a tax levy, it might be more equitable,” Vanderpool said. “The problem is then everyone’s paying for a sidewalk every year through taxes. No one likes to pay in increased taxes, for sure.”

Vanderpool said the city could consider a cap on the repair assessment cost, adding that some properties, such as those on corners, have had an assessment reaching around $7,000. A cap to something like $3,500 or even half that amount “eases the burden some,” he explained.

“And what we’d have to do then is figure out an alternative funding method to make that up,” Vanderpool added. “I mean, the sidewalk program is expensive; it’s about a million dollars a year.

“You know, so whatever we do to change it means that we have to subsidize it from some other revenue source, whether it be general fund revenues, you know, we cut expenditures elsewhere, fund balance, property taxes, or the like.”

Vanderpool said the plan city officials are considering could fund that “within existing revenue sources,” though more should be explained in the upcoming budget talks. He added that the city plans to recommend a “much lower” interest rate to aid with financing, adding that it’s been around 5% or 6%, and “that just doesn’t make sense right now.”

“I think it will help ease the pain to the residents that have some of the higher bills,” Vanderpool said. “The average bill is under a thousand dollars, and again, if it is financed, you know, it does make it far more manageable.”  

City officials added that any new or altered system the city potentially decides to adopt must be equitable. The City Council took no formal action on the matter at the March 16 meeting.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool said anyone who wants to know more about the city’s sidewalk repair program or to request a sidewalk inspection may call (586) 446-2489. For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net.

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