Emanuel’s final budget adds $1 million for sidewalk repair; aldermen unimpressed

SHARE Emanuel’s final budget adds $1 million for sidewalk repair; aldermen unimpressed

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s final city budget will have an extra $1 million in a program that splits the cost of new sidewalks with homeowners who apply. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s final budget will add $1 million to Chicago’s 50-50 sidewalk program, but at least two aldermen were not impressed.

The increased funding for, what is now a $3 million-a-year program paves the way for “around 400” more property owners to split the tab for sidewalk repairs with City Hall. Over the last five years an average of 840 property owners — out of about 2,000 applicants — have been selected each year.

But those people will have to move quickly to take the city up on its offer before money for the first-come, first-served program runs out.

“It sells out in two seconds. Maybe this [extra money] extends it for a few more minutes. That would just add a few residents to the list,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), one of Emanuel’s most outspoken City Council critics. “But I don’t think it would take care of the long list of sidewalk problems that there are.”

Waguespack noted pedestrians who trip over broken or uneven sidewalks routinely sue the city and win judgments to compensate them for their injuries.

“We’ve had situations where we have absentee landlords who just don’t want to fix a sidewalk,” he said.

“What they need to do in some cases is have a pro-active system where the department goes out and says, ‘We’re gonna do 50-50 with you, but you have to get this done within X amount of time because of safety issues.'”

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) argued that the $1 million would be better spent on emergency assistance for struggling homeowners.

“You might have a senior who’s on a fixed income and has a leaky roof and can’t afford to get their roof fixed. Or they have a front porch that’s falling apart and they can’t get up the front stairs. Or their furnace goes out and they just can’t afford to have the furnace or the hot water heater repaired. That’s a better use of that money,” Beale said.

Emanuel announced the latest legacy-building plumb in his final budget during a news conference Monday in the 6000-block of North Melvina.

That’s located in the 39th Ward of retiring Ald. Marge Laurino (39th), one of Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporters.

There, Emanuel argued that the sidewalk sharing program that “continues to grow in popularity” needs and deserves more resources.

“It is always over-subscribed….It’s slightly, although it’s a bit of an exaggeration, like a Lollapalooza ticket. It goes quick –– like that –– and then, we’re done,” the mayor said.

“For years, I’ve wanted to expand the program. We haven’t had the resources. But with a better fiscal condition and a healthier economy growing jobs, we have the opportunity…This is one of a series of things we’ll be talking about [in the budget] because the quality of life of our neighborhoods equals the vibrancy of our city.”

Laurino said demand for the sidewalk-sharing program is so great, she advises homeowners in her far Northwest Side ward to “either stay up late or get up early because it gets sold-out. Kind of like a concert.”

The Shared Cost Sidewalk program is open to all Chicago property owners with non-vaulted sidewalks — meaning sidewalks poured directly on solid ground. Vaulted sidewalks common in the Loop and other commercial areas, are built over open space.

Property owners apply at the start of each year by calling the city’s 311 non-emergency number or by filling out a service request at www.cityofchicago.org/311.

Owners of midblock homes routinely end up paying anywhere from $600 to $1,500 for sidewalk repairs.

City Hall claims that is “well below” what private contractors charge. Senior citizens and property owners with disabilities receive a 50-percent discount on their share of the work.

After applications are submitted, engineers from the Chicago Department of Transportation survey the sidewalk. City subsidies are made available, only for sidewalks sections determined to be in poor condition.

CDOT engineers then send the property owner an invoice with the estimate. Owners have 45 days to accept or reject the city’s estimate. Last year, roughly 40 percent of the property owners who applied agreed to participate.

For more information about the Shared Cost Sidewalk Program, go to: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/street/svcs/shared_cost_sidewalkprogram.html

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