by Terry Rogers
In July 2019, Milford City Council approved a letter to be sent to homeowners with damaged sidewalks requiring them to make repairs. In the letter, the City explained that the homeowner had 90 days to repair the damaged sidewalk on their own, hire a contractor to do the work for them or have the City make the repair and bill them. Property owners were also provided the option of a 60-month interest free loan should the City contractor repair the sidewalk. Any sidewalk not repaired within the 90-day timeframe would be repaired by the City and the homeowner billed for the expense. In addition, all inspection costs were waived and any property owner who used the City’s contractor and paid the invoice in full at the time of billing received would be provided a 15 percent discount.
The decision to move forward with the sidewalk repair program was approved with Councilman Todd Culotta casting the only no vote. In September 2019, Councilman Culotta brought the sidewalk issue up again after reviewing the City’s sidewalk code and receiving calls from constituents.
“Residents are getting letters with options for how they can pay for this sidewalk repair,” Councilman Culotta said. “As you know, I voted no for this ordinance because I felt the City should cover this cost. However, the code clearly reads that property owners who meet the low-income threshold may apply for financial assistance. We need a program for low income residents yet this was not addressed when we approved the letters nor was it included in the letter.”
At the time, City Manager Eric Norenberg explained that the City had not established a low income threshold for any city requirement. He stated that establishing a low income threshold was proposed early in the sidewalk discussion but Council supported the lien option as opposed to creating another option.
“I do remember that I asked because it is tough to tell a homeowner to fix their sidewalks,” Councilman Jason James said. “If it is already in the code, we are not creating something new.” At the September meeting, Council asked that City staff develop a method for identifying low-income residents who may then apply for grant funding for their sidewalks.
At the October 21, 2019, meeting, Councilman James, who leads the Finance Committee, explained that the Committee realized that the letter sent to homeowners who needed to repair sidewalks omitted Section D of the City Code which stated property owners may apply for low-income funding.
“We realized that this option was omitted,” Councilman James said. “No one was at fault for the omission, we simply missed it when we approved the letter. The Finance Committee was then tasked with reviewing several options to identify low-income residents and the method they could use to apply for funding to repair sidewalks.”
Mark Whitfield, Director of Public Works, explained that the only program Council currently had in place for low income was for property taxes. This program was for those who were 65 and older with a single income of less than $15,000 per year or a joint income of $25,500 per year. The program provides for an exemption of $40,000 of assessed value which could result in a reduction of $184 for 2020. He also explained that the federal government defines low income at 80 percent of the median income and very low income at 50 percent of the median income. For Kent County, the median income is $46,833 for a single-person household, making the low income threshold $37,450 or less and the very low income threshold $23,450.
“Currently, there are 13 households that qualify for the low income over 65 tax reduction that also has a sidewalk to replace,” Whitfield said. “Unfortunately, there is no way to know how many property owners who are under 65 qualify for the low-income or very low-income status.” Whitfield also explained that the majority of the property owners who were facing sidewalk repairs had less than six blocks that were damaged. With the no-interest loan option, this equates to $27.08 per month added to their utility bill.
Several options were presented and the Finance Committee chose to present the most simplified option to Council. In order to apply for low-income sidewalk repair, applicants must provide their most recent tax returns which shows the property address, number of dependents and adjusted gross income. The sidewalk must be for an owner-occupied property. Those who are identified as low income (80 percent of median income) will receive a 60 percent reduction on the repair costs while those identified as very low income (50 percent of median income) would receive a reduction of 75 percent. The 15 percent discount for prompt payment for any income threshold would also remain in effect.
“For now, funding will come from the Real Estate Transfer Tax fund,” Norenberg explained. “We are not sure at this time what the amount will be so that will mean we need to come back at a later date for appropriation. We will also need to look at adding this additional language to the charter.”
Council approved the program unanimously.
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