7.1 Methods of funding inspection and maintenance programs
A variety of sources are available to fund pedestrian facility inspection and maintenance programs. In general, funding strategies can be split into two categories: programs that are funded by abutting property owners, and programs funded by community taxes, funds and fees.
7.1.1 Community-Paid Repair and Maintenance Programs
Many communities treat pedestrian facilities as a community-wide asset, and fund their repair and maintenance directly. Typically, these funds come from a municipality's general fund or transportation fund. A community-paid program eases administrative costs compared to assessment programs and spreads the costs for pedestrian facility maintenance over the entire community. The primary concern with community-paid maintenance programs is that funds must be budgeted for the program. Fees and taxes that are commonly used to fund pedestrian facility maintenance programs are briefly discussed below.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a voter-approved sidewalk millage tax that generates $560,000 or more per year for sidewalk repair and replacement. The tax was proposed by city officials as a means to address significant sidewalk maintenance that was not being adequately addressed through the city's code requirements, which assigns the responsibility of sidewalk maintenance to the adjacent property owner. The special millage was seen as a more equitable and effective means to address the city's sidewalk maintenance needs and was approved by over 60% of voters. As a result of the 0.125-mill, the average household pays an additional $13 per year in local taxes.
Sidewalk repair and replacement is commonly paid for through the general fund, which is typically funded by property and sales tax revenues. This is consistent with the way street many agencies consider the funding of street repairs. Generally, sidewalk maintenance is considered separately from road repair funding; in some cases, several sidewalk maintenance projects (e.g. typically sidewalk replacement) may be lumped together and included as a line item in the capital improvement program. Sidewalk repair and replacement projects often compete with other projects and funding obligations. Sidewalk repair and replacement programs should have the same priority of other types of street repairs and should not fall victim to budget cuts or shifting priorities.
Winter maintenance is also commonly funded through the general fund. Typically, cities set aside a discrete amount for snow and ice removal. The uncertainty of the need for snow and ice removal each winter, cities may end up with a surplus or may need to pull additional money from the general fund. Most cities return surpluses back to the general fund or carry the funds over for the following year.
Many communities have downtown or other business district areas that (i.e. Business Improvement Districts, Community Improvement Districts, Business Improvement Area, transportation improvement districts, etc.) have assumed responsibility of sidewalk maintenance, including winter maintenance. These special districts may fund sidewalk maintenance through their general funds or may assess local property owners for general sidewalk maintenance as well as necessary repairs and replacements.
Homeowner associations are one of the most significant participants in the provision and maintenance of pedestrian facilities. Homeowners' associations are formal legal entities created to maintain common areas. These common areas often include sidewalks and paths that are open to the public. Homeowners associations are usually created when a new development is opened. Their popularity is increasing especially for condominium and townhouse developments. In parts of the U.S. many newer single-family subdivisions are organized around a homeowners association.
Their means of financing activities is similar to improvement districts or business improvement districts typically through some form of assessment based on valuation. For example, Columbia Association of Columbia, Maryland assesses an annual fee of 50 cents on $100 of fair market valuation, but just on 50% of the total valuation of a property. This association offers a complete set of community services and as part of those services; it provides maintenance for 93 miles of path and walkways. While other services may require an additional user fee, the infrastructure for pedestrians is considered a public commodity that is included in the base assessment paid by all residents and businesses. Other homeowner associations provide a much more limited set of services but it is common for these associations to completely fund maintenance services for pedestrian facilities if walkways have been included in the development.
State Aid Funds
State-aid funds are aimed at distributing a portion of state fuel taxes and vehicle license fees and taxes to local governments for transportation projects. In some cases such funding is only available for transportation projects within state-aid eligible rights-of-way. In other cases, such funds are set-aside for communities to draw on for specific transportation purposes such as safety projects. In yet other cases, such funds are set up as reimbursement programs in which a portion of costs that local jurisdictions incur in fixing sidewalks may be reimbursable by the state.
The availability of this type of program to local communities varies from state to state and may not be available for maintenance activities.
Special Communitywide Assessments
Some communities are able to target the funding of pedestrian facilities with voter-approved levies or special property tax assessments. Not all states have state-level enabling legislation making such levies or district assessments possible. The levies typically involve asking voters to approve a temporary fee or tax that will be dedicated to a specific use such as sidewalk repair. Benefit assessment districts can be established in some states and used for general sidewalk maintenance and repair, ADA compliance, pedestrian safety improvements or other specific programs. The City of Ithaca, NY has just passed legislation creating sidewalk assessment districts covering most properties in the city. All properties will pay a yearly assessment (ranging from $70 to $140 annually) to be used toward sidewalk replacement and construction, including corner curb cuts. The City has discontinued special assessing individual adjacent property owners for sidewalk repairs, however, homeowners can receive credit for work they paid for in the past 20 years.
Corvallis, Oregon, includes a sidewalk maintenance fee as part of residents' monthly City Services bill, which also includes water and sewer charges. The $0.80 monthly fee was determined by taking the average yearly cost to repair defective sidewalks ($150,000) divided by the number of utility customers divided by 12. Prior to the imposition of the utility fee, property owners paid for repairs to sidewalks in the public right-of-way along their property. Now, the City will use the money raised by the fee to pay for repairs to defects on public sidewalks.
Cheney, Washington, uses a voter-approved tax on electrical and natural gas services to fund maintenance of residential streets and sidewalks. The 4% electric and natural gas tax generates roughly $380,000 annually. This dedicated funding paid for the repair of nearly 18 miles of existing residential streets and nearly 6 miles of existing residential sidewalks throughout the city over 14 years.
Bonds are often used by governments to address significant funding gaps by leveraging existing revenues to pay for large capital expenditures. Communities in some states use bonding to fund sidewalk repair or replacement programs, usually for an entire neighborhood or large section of the community. These bonds often have to be approved by residents through a referendum.
Utility fees are used by some municipalities to fund street and sidewalk maintenance. Often such fees are voter-approved. Typically the utility fee an individual household pays is relatively small, but the steady funding source enables municipalities to plan and execute maintenance activities in a systematic way. Utility fees may be specific line items, such as a sidewalk maintenance fee collected directly by the municipality, or may be a tax on electric or natural gas service collected by the utility.
Many communities indirectly use sales tax revenues to fund pedestrian facility maintenance by way of the general fund. Additionally, many states allow local municipalities or counties to impose a small local sales tax that could be earmarked for pedestrian facility maintenance. Sales tax revenue, direct or indirect, is a common source of funding for street maintenance and there are communities that use these revenues to also fund sidewalk repair and replacement programs.
The availability of this program to local communities is typically covered by state law and varies from state to state.
State gas tax revenues are a common component of sidewalk maintenance funding. Though not common, some states give local governments authority to levy local fuel taxes, typically in the range of one to three cents per gallon, to pay for roadway improvements including sidewalks. More commonly, many states share a portion of state-generated gas tax revenues with local communities to fund street improvements, often through state aid programs as described above. The availability of this program to local communities is typically covered by state law and varies from state to state.
Vehicle License, Wheel tax, and Parking Fees
Funding pedestrian facility maintenance using revenues from vehicle license fees or parking fees is not common based on information gathered from agency discussions. Seattle was the only community that explicitly mentioned using vehicle license fees to partially fund its ADA program, which includes replacing curb ramps. The state of Arizona's Highway User Revenue Fund, a portion of which is distributed among the state's cities and counties, receives funding from vehicle license fees. Some states, such as Wisconsin allow for the collection of a wheel tax at the time of vehicle registration with the stipulation that that tax revenue be used for "transportation" purposes.
Enforcement Camera Revenues
Funding pedestrian facility maintenance using revenues from red light or speed cameras is not common based on information gathered from agency discussions. Fort Worth, Texas was the only community that explicitly mentioned red light cameras as a funding source for its pedestrian maintenance activities. Seventy-five percent of this revenue goes towards new sidewalk construction and 25% goes towards repairing existing sidewalks. However, red-light and speed cameras are becoming a more common enforcement method and more communities may choose to dedicate some of the revenue to sidewalk repair. Montgomery County, MD uses some red-light and/or speed enforcement revenue to fund pedestrian safety programs which are not directed at regular sidewalk maintenance, but has been used for facility safety improvements especially around schools.
Federal transportation funds are a common source for financing pedestrian facility construction and maintenance. Such funding may be used to supplement other available financial resources, and typically is used for targeted projects such as replacing large segments of sidewalks, installing ADA-compliant curb ramps, and installing and upgrading pedestrian signals. Common federal grant funding sources used for pedestrian facilities by communities include Community Development Block Grants and Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancement grants (the last two programs have been combined into the Transportation Alternatives program and discussed in more detail below). A comprehensive federal website is www.grants.gov.
One of the more common programs to correct ADA and Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) deficiencies is the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Funds apportioned under the program to a State per MAP-21, may be used to correct deficiencies that may also address maintenance problems for facilities in the public-rights-of-way (e.g., sidewalks and curb ramps). These may be identified in the State's or local government's ADA/Section 504 transition plan. The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), authorized under Section 1122 of MAP-21 (23 U.S.C. § 213), provides funding for projects or activities, including: transportation alternatives, as defined at 23 U.S.C. § 101(a)(29); the recreational trails program under 23 U.S.C. § 206; the safe routes to school program under section 1404 of SAFETEA-LU; and the planning, design or construction of boulevards and other roadways largely in the right-of-way of former Interstate System routes
Tax Incremental Financing (TIF)
Some communities use tax incremental financing (TIF) as a means to address pedestrian facility maintenance needs in commercial areas undergoing extensive development or redevelopment. TIF is a method to use future expected gains in taxes to subsidize current improvements. TIF districts operate in most states and are typically targeted toward making improvements in distressed, underdeveloped or underused parts of a jurisdiction to encourage new development.
One of the best ways to maintain sidewalks is to piggy-back sidewalk repair/replacement projects with other improvements within the public right-of-way. For example, a municipality may require utilities to install or replace sidewalk segments within a certain distance of a project that involves digging up the right of way. The cost of replacing sidewalks can also be folded into large projects such as utility line replacements and street resurfacing. Also, accessibility-related improvements could also target sidewalks, curb ramps, and paths most in need of repair.
Madison, Wisconsin, actively assesses property owners for costs associated with sidewalk replacement. Typically assessments for replacement occur when the adjacent street is being repaved or reconstructed. Assessments will also occur for sidewalk replacements made as part the City's Sidewalk Repair and Rehabilitation Program.
Under the assessment program, property owners are responsible for 50% of the cost of sidewalk replacements. Property owner assessments fund approximately one quarter of the City's million dollar plus sidewalk program. The remainder of the city's sidewalk program is funded with general obligation bond funds.
7.1.2 Property Owner Assessment for Repair
Assessment programs assess abutting property owners for the costs of maintaining or replacing pedestrian facilities. Property owners may be held responsible for the full cost of the maintenance or the jurisdiction may pay part of cost. The jurisdiction's portion may be raised through any of the alternatives highlighted in section 6.1.1. Popularity of this funding tool varies from state to state. This is a common means of financing sidewalk replacements in some states, but is nearly non-existent in other states.
The primary benefit of an assessment program is that it allows a community to directly recover costs for pedestrian facility maintenance as maintenance is performed. Assessments also allow property owners to see and directly benefit from payments that they are making to the municipality; general fees or taxes that may fund transportation improvements are not as visible to those paying the fee or tax. However, a number of concerns arise in systems that assess abutting property owners for the costs of pedestrian facility maintenance.
If a community does not have a history of assessing property owners for pedestrian facility maintenance, it can be very difficult politically to begin an assessment program. Typically, elected officials are loath to impose a new fee on their constituents, particularly one that may only apply to a select number of people each year. In communities with an ongoing assessment program, political considerations may become a factor in issuing the unpopular assessments, with a negative impact on sidewalk quality.
Administrative and Timeliness Concerns
An assessment program requires that the municipality have a system in place to assess property owners for the costs of maintaining abutting pedestrian facilities. If such a program is not in place, a community may be hesitant to set up the administrative structure needed to run the program. Such programs have ongoing administrative costs for communities that do use assessment programs, including time and expenses for the initial assessment and ongoing costs for assessment collection. Taking property owners through a long process to ultimately assess them for sidewalk repairs can significantly delay repairs, prolonging hazardous conditions.
Assessing abutting property owners for maintenance and repair of pedestrian facilities places a greater burden on homeowners in lower-income neighborhoods who are less able to pay. Many older parts of communities are the most affordable and housing is the least expensive and may be populated by those with lower incomes. However, sidewalks in these areas may need the most maintenance because they are older. This, coupled with the fact that these areas may have a lower density of cars per household and have more pedestrians that need to use the sidewalks for their daily trips to work, shopping, etc. contribute significantly to a need for the facilities among those who can least afford to maintain and repair it.
Pedestrian facilities are part of a community's transportation network, and improvements to the facilities serve not only the abutting property owner, but the public at large. Maintenance and repairs of the travel and parking lanes of streets are rarely funded in this manner.
Abutting Property Owner-Paid Repair and Maintenance
In some communities, property owners are directly responsible for maintaining sidewalks, and city ordinances mandate that they schedule and pay for repairs on their own. The municipality has the administrative burden of inspecting the work and enforcing these ordinances, as discussed in Chapter 4. The drawbacks of this system are the same as those for assessment, with the additional concern over the potential for uneven quality in the repair work, unpredictable schedules for completion, and the potential for a higher cost burden placed on homeowners than other systems taking advantage of economies of scale.
7.2 Funding Summary
If a municipality already has a functioning assessment program in place, it is likely that the program will be the simplest way for the municipality to continue to fund pedestrian facility repairs and maintenance. However, if a municipality does not have an assessment program, or if there are concerns about the equity of an assessment program, a shared or community-paid program may be the best way to fund maintenance and repairs. Municipalities should be creative in drawing on a variety of funding sources to keep their sidewalks in good repair.