Municipality may boost area rates to provide sidewalks
West Hants Public Works director Rick Sherrard has asked council to provide clarity on the issue of municipal sidewalks.
In a recent discussion paper, Sherrard broached the subject as one that should be addressed in terms of future planning, particularity in designated growth areas. It could, ultimately, affect local area rates.
Sherrard noted that current municipal planning includes the endorsement of walkable communities and sidewalk provision was emphasized in the recent West Hants Municipal Planning Strategy, which states: “It is expected that a full range of municipal services including water and sewer, recreation facilities, street lights and sidewalks, will eventually be provided in these communities as they become necessary.”
In the discussion paper, Sherrard outlined the importance of sidewalks for a variety of reasons including the need to reduce dependency on automobiles and to promote active and healthy lifestyles. “From a recreational perspective, sidewalks and trails should be integrated into the overall transportation network.”
Development of an integrated trail system, he said, together with road shoulders that are wide enough to accommodate walkers or cyclists, should be encouraged and even actively promoted by the municipality, adding that providing sidewalks is particularly important for those with mobility issues including seniors, the disabled and even parents with strollers or young children in tow.
Come with price
On the other hand, although municipal sidewalks may be a desirable addition to an expanding community, Sherrard also acknowledged they come with a price. “Sidewalks are a liability and high maintenance cost item.”
In fact, he said, in other municipalities only a few actually managed to enforce bylaws that require residents to pay for maintenance and even fewer required users to remove snow and ice as a matter of course.
Currently, the municipality owns only one sidewalk, which is located on Shetland Road in Falmouth and is part of an existing development there. That sidewalk is part of Meadows development and has been maintained by Public Works at a cost to the municipality.
But that need not be the case for future developments, Sherrard noted, and now would be the time to address possible rates or charges for future sidewalks, before further development takes hold. “Clearly, it will be less expensive in the long run if sidewalks are installed by the developer of a new subdivision rather than by the municipality at a later date.
He said, “I believe that it is timely to determine if we are going to encourage sidewalks or not, so that they can be included or removed from municipal documents as necessary.”
The cost of maintaining those sidewalks continues to be a concern for council. Warden Richard Dauphinee noted, “we all want sidewalks, but whose going to pay for them and the upkeep?”
Coun. Randy Matheson said logistically that infrastructure just doesn't make sense. “We are a rural community and sidewalks are not feasible in many areas.”
He pointed out that residents without sidewalks should not have to pay for those in other areas. “We can't increase an area rate for those residents who may not have access to those sidewalks.”
Planning director Lynn Davis said the municipality should be encouraging developers to install their own sidewalks, noting developers should have the right to put in sidewalks in new developments. “To say no sidewalks in a growth center doesn't make any sense.” She said the only issue should be the cost of maintenance, which could be included in an area rate, or at the expense of new homeowners, as arranged by developers.
A motion was carried to encourage developers to build sidewalks at their own expense and that sidewalks be maintained through the area rate. As well, any new sidewalks built by the municipality would be at a cost to local residents.”