Walking around Turlock has been a bumpy prospect in years past, but it’s getting smoother as the City of Turlock works with homeowners to get cracked and crumbling sidewalks repaired.
The City of Turlock’s Municipal Code states that it is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalks near their home. However, some residents struggle to fund the repairs. Over the past several years, the City has been looking for ways to ease the financial burden.
In 2013, the City implemented the Encroachment Permit Fee Backfill program to reduce property owners’ financial impacts associated with sidewalk repairs. Since then, the Council has appropriated a total of $55,000 in Gas Tax reserves to subsidized permit fees for 326 repairs. Each permit is subsidized up to $160.50, which generally equates to $1,000 work of repairs, according to City staff. The number of permits issued annually has increased from 33 in fiscal year 2012-13 to 90 in 2015-16.
For the past two years, the City has run out of funding to subsidize the permit fees in early spring. Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Manager Erik Schulze said many homeowners will then put off repairing the sidewalk until the following year when the funding is available, creating a backlog of work that needs to be done.
Due to the high demand for the Encroachment Permit Fee Backfill program, Schulze requested on Tuesday that the City Council appropriate an additional $5,000 to fund the program for fiscal year 2017-18, increasing the annual program total to $20,000. The Council unanimously approved the request.
“That is a huge, huge tool in our toolbelt as we reach out to the community to try and help them get these sidewalks repaired. It makes a big difference to them when they go through the process to not have to pay for that permit for the first $1,000 worth of work,” said Schulze.
The City has also made strides in educating the public about their responsibilities when it comes to sidewalk repairs. In December 2015, the City Council adopted a new Local Option for real estate transactions that aims to increase awareness of property owners' responsibilities when it comes to sidewalk and street tree maintenance.
The new ordinances require that with every sale or transfer of property, the seller is required to provide notice of the property owner's maintenance obligations related to street trees and sidewalk areas. The City of Turlock Municipal Code requires every property owner and every person occupying property within the city to maintain street trees in the parkway or planting easement on or adjacent to his or her property.
The Local Option Disclosure Agreement is the same process Realtors use to inform buyers of the Right to Farm ordinance in Stanislaus County, however, the Turlock sidewalk and street tree ordinances were the first of their kind in the area.
When the City is notified of an out of repair sidewalk, the City posts warning barricades and assigns an inspector to go out and mark the repairs needed on the sidewalk with paint.
The property owner is mailed a first notice requesting the sidewalk be repaired within 10 days. This letter also includes information on a financial assistance program for those who qualify. Repair extensions can be given due to weather conditions and other circumstances as deemed by the City.
The property owner has to find a contractor to perform the repairs and obtain an encroachment permit through the Engineering Department.
When the repairs are completed, City engineering inspectors must verify the work meets the City standards. Once signed off, City staff removes the barricades and the sidewalk is considered repaired.
If the property owner doesn’t respond to the first notice, at 14 days a second notice is posted on the homeowners’ door. If there’s no response, a third letter is sent via certified mail giving the homeowner an additional 14 days to start the repair process. The third notice incurs additional fees for the homeowner.
If a homeowner does not respond to any of the notices, City staff brings it before the City Council to start the lien process. The City will then fix the sidewalk and charge the homeowner for the work performed, holding the debt against their property. According to Schulze, this has happened twice since 2013.
“It’s not an easy process for anybody. I’ve yet to have anyone call me and say they’ve set aside a rainy-day fund to fix a sidewalk, it just hasn’t happened,” said Schulze.
The City of Turlock itself has repaired quite a few sidewalks adjacent to City facilities — 2,443 total over the past five years. Most of those have been a saw cut repair through the City’s contractor, Precision Concrete, said Schulze. The saw cut repair is about 87 percent less expensive than to replace the sidewalk. Schulze said using saw cut repairs saved the City approximately $900,000 in repair costs since 2012-13.
Qualified homeowners also have the option of using the saw cut repair through Precision Concrete instead of replacing the broken sidewalk.
More information on the City’s sidewalk repair programs, visit http://www.cityofturlock.org/streetstraffic/sidewalkrepairs/