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Citizens talk sidewalks with Portage mayor on snowy night

January 25, 2019

Portage Mayor Rick Dodd didn’t take a snow day Wednesday, and neither did the 17 people who came out in the cold for Dodd’s quarterly listening session.

And on a day for shovels and snowblowers, it came as little surprise that the most-broached topic was sidewalks.

Richard Daugherty expressed frustration that he’s required by ordinance to shovel his sidewalk, only to have the city’s snowplows push a fresh pile of snow back onto them.

His wife, Laura Daugherty, said she’s at least as perturbed about a city plan to add sidewalks in her northern Portage neighborhood. She said a proposed new sidewalk on East Slifer Street would encroach on their back yard.

And Dylan Herman and Kelli Cooke, who live on Yellowstone Avenue, said they don’t want new sidewalks because installation would threaten two silver maple trees.

“There’s not enough foot traffic to put in double sidewalks,” Cooke said, referring to the sidewalk across the street from her house. “Don’t we have better things to spend money on?”

Dodd — who relocated the listening session to the Portage Municipal Building because the Portage Public Library was closed Wednesday due to inclement weather — said he understands how people hate to lose trees. He said he had the same experience when municipal projects damaged the roots of trees in the right-of-way near his house, resulting in their eventual deaths.

“I like trees. I’m not trying to get rid of trees, but sooner or later you have to bite the bullet,” he said.

Dodd noted that in the interest of holding the line on debt, the city from now on will handle sidewalk and alley replacements in alternating years — and this is the year for sidewalks.

The area where sidewalk repairs are slated is an area where many schools are located, including Wayne E. Bartels Middle School, Woodbridge Primary School and John Muir Elementary School. Portage City Administrator Shawn Murphy said the Portage Community School District is among the entities that has advocated for additional sidewalks in that area, to increase safety for students walking to and from school.

Common council member Dennis Nachreiner, who is a member of the council’s municipal services and utilities committee, said property owners often aren’t happy when the city adds sidewalks, but it’s important that existing sidewalks be supplemented, so they connect.

“Just drive through this city and look at the hodgepodge of sidewalks we have,” Nachreiner said. “They start and they stop, they start and they stop.”

The city typically pays for sidewalk and alley replacement and repair partly by borrowing money and partly by assessing properties that adjoin the project.

Dodd said city officials try to set priorities, not only for sidewalks, but also for street repair and replacement.

Herman asked what recourse is available to a homeowner who objects to their property being included in a sidewalk project.

A public hearing for the projects is held and affected property owners are notified, Dodd said.

Nachreiner suggested getting involved earlier, while the municipal services and utilities committee is discussing the project. Dodd said residents can contact their common council representative.

Kyle Little — who is running for the District 6 Common Council post — said he had a good experience of dealing with city officials when the city undertook a major project on River Street, which included new sidewalks.

“I was very pleased with the communication based with the project,” he said. “Call your alderman.”

Little’s opponent, Eric Shimpach, also attended the listening session, but did not speak.

Other topics discussed included:

Run-down properties. A resident said she filed written complaints about the condition of several home exteriors, and did not see any improvements. Dodd said that’s largely because the rights of property owners make it difficult for city officials to enforce improvements, unless the problems make the residence obviously uninhabitable.Trails. One resident expressed concern about whether future trails on West Conant Street and in Pauquette Park would damage the decorative plantings the Columbia County Master Gardeners group has maintained in the park.Debt. Dodd recounted the recent meeting of the common council’s committee of the whole, to talk about capital project priorities and the challenge of remaining within the city’s debt limits. “We’re not close to the limit yet, but we want to make sure we don’t get close to the limit,” he said.