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Change could be in future for Rochester sidewalk assessments

City council members support for potential change to process.

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A Safe Step Sidewalk Solutions crew member works to level an uneven section of the sidewalk on Tuesday, August 18, 2020, in northwest Rochester. Similar work is expected to start in portions of northeast and southeast Rochester during the upcoming weeks. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

A potential change for how Rochester would fund future sidewalk repairs was discussed Monday, hours before the next step was taken toward an estimated $1 million in assessments for work to be done by the end of the year.

“Most people already think it’s the city’s responsibility,” said city council member Nick Campion, supporting a move away from direct assessments for sidewalk repairs.

In May, nearly 1,400 property owners received notices that at least a portion of their sidewalk needed a repair. Estimated assessments for homeowners ranged from $270 to $7,423.

RELATED: 12 things to know about Rochester sidewalk repair notices

Tyler Niemeyer, Rochester’s assistant city engineer, said the assessments sent in May were based on full slab replacement, but future work could involve grinding down edges or raising existing slabs.

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“Those repairs are typically less costly than full replacement,” he said, noting they would reduce the final assessment to property owners, which will be sent once work is complete.

Once notified the work needed to be done, property owners were given until July 8 to hire a licensed contractor to do the work.


What happened: The Rochester City Council discussed the potential for creating sidewalk improvement districts to fund future sidewalk improvements outside downtown Rochester.

Why does this matter: The change would create a standard fee and eliminate the need to send assessments to property owners when repairs are required.

What's next: The city council will consider a formal recommendation at a future council meeting.


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On Monday, the council authorized seeking a contractor to perform any unfinished repairs, with the bulk of work starting next month and perhaps continuing into November.

Brett Jenkinson, engineering project manager with Rochester Public Works, said it’s unclear how many of the 1,400 property owners took advantage of the option, since inspections are still being completed. However, he said the combination of work completed and alternative options has lowered the anticipated assessments by more than half of the original $2 million.

“We don’t yet know exactly how many panels have been inspected and removed from the project,” Jenkinson said, adding that several homeowners reportedly hired unlicensed contractors or attempted the work themselves, which could lead to failed inspections and orders to redo the work.

Niemeyer said the proposal to create “sidewalk improvement districts” would help reduce such problems in the future.

“The program would be a lot easier for the residents to understand,” he said.

The proposal would create roughly five districts in which property owners would pay an annual fee to fund sidewalk improvements, spreading the expense throughout the area rather than having property owners assessed at different rates.

Campion said he supports the idea because it would make costs more predictable and put the work in the hands of the city, rather than making individual residents determine how the work is done.

Niemeyer said the discussion will be used to format an official recommendation, which could include prorating fees for people who paid for sidewalk repairs in the past 10 years.

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No specific date for consideration of a policy change was discussed.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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