Sidewalk millage to appear on November ballot

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 10, 2018

 Royal Oak residents will decide if they want to fund the city’s sidewalk program through a millage come the Nov. 6 general election.

Royal Oak residents will decide if they want to fund the city’s sidewalk program through a millage come the Nov. 6 general election.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

ROYAL OAK — In a 5-2 vote June 25, the Royal Oak City Commission approved placing a millage to fund its sidewalk program on the Nov. 6 ballot.

If approved, the proposed millage of up to 0.75 mills for up to six years would begin Dec. 1, 2018, and would cover all costs associated with replacing and repairing sidewalks in Royal Oak.

The full 0.75 mills would capture approximately $1.8 million for the sidewalk program annually; however, “It is likely that the city could not need to levy the total authorized amount,” according to a memo included in the meeting agenda packet.

The city estimated that the sidewalk program next year would require $1.2 million, or 0.5 mills.

The commission would have to approve a resolution to levy the millage annually.

Prior to the proposed millage, the city funded its six-year sidewalk program using a special assessment system, putting property owners on the hook for replacing slabs deemed deficient by city inspectors.

City officials agreed that the program was largely unpopular and unfair. City Manager Don Johnson said defective sidewalks were rarely the fault of the homeowner; the culprit is often tree roots.

“If we do it with this approach, everybody will pay a tax of a relatively small but fixed amount, as opposed to having a highly variable, possibly very high amount that you would be liable for if you (had a lot of flags that needed to be replaced),” Johnson said. “If we do it this way, everybody would just pay it on their tax bill, and the city would take care of it.”

With the millage, Johnson said there would be no billing or notices, which would also be simpler for the city because it would not have to keep track of how many flags were assessed to which property owners.

From the beginning to the end of the recently concluded sidewalk program, Johnson said, the cost per square foot of 4-inch concrete increased from $3.36 to $5.03, so he was comfortable with the amount of the proposed millage.

“This network belongs to all of us,” City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “It’s a benefit to all of us and for seniors and children and people with disabilities and makes us a very walkable community.”

He said it does not make sense to him to burden individual homeowners who had more sidewalk on their property than others, when the sidewalk is used by all.

“We don’t want our neighbors with big, beautiful, well-established trees to have an incentive to take those trees out because they’re having to pay for their sidewalk every time the program comes around,” DuBuc said. “It makes more sense for us to bear that burden as a community.”

DuBuc made the motion to go forward with placing the millage on the November ballot, because giving voters the choice for how they wanted to fund sidewalks “seems reasonable,” and Mayor Michael Fournier seconded his motion. 

Commissioners Kim Gibbs and Randy LaVasseur cast the two “nay” votes.

LaVasseur voted “no” despite voicing that he thought funding the sidewalk program via a millage was an improvement over the special assessment system.

He suggested funding the sidewalk program through the city’s general fund, which has a fund balance of approximately $13 million.

DuBuc said that it was not feasible and was fiscally irresponsible to fund the ongoing $1 million-per-year sidewalk program through the city’s coffers.