Newport has a sidewalk code, which has not been heavily enforced. That's changing
Newport's new sidewalk inspection program will result in sidewalk repairs throughout the city over the next five years — and property owners will be responsible for making the bulk of the repairs.
Director of Code Enforcement Brian Steffen says the inspection program became necessary when the city was in the process of renewing its insurance with the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services last year.
"So what prompted this was not the city just one day deciding that we're going to go around and write up a bunch of sidewalks here," he said. "We had been receiving trip and fall claims to our insurance company and the insurance adjusters … had kind of come down on the city and required us, as part of our insurance renewal, to go out and do a sidewalk inspection program."
That means citing home and other property owners for violating the city's sidewalk code, which has been in place for over a decade, though not heavily enforced.
Steffen says the code applies to the obvious, like broken or uneven sidewalks, and can be stringent. Even a sidewalk panel that's uneven by about half an inch is a trip hazard.
"I think it's the small ones that may be the worst ones because you don't see them as well as a sidewalk panel that's been heaved significantly. And I think that's what probably has caused some of the concern because the property owners receiving these notices don't really see them as being a big issue or an issue at all because, say a sidewalk panel is intact but there's a lipped edge in the middle of the sidewalk, and those are issues as well," he said.
The inspections will be conducted over five years in five zones created by the city for the program. The first is the Monmouth Street Central Business District Corridor and nearby streets. Last month, 52 property owners received notice about repairs to sidewalks adjacent to their property.
They have 90 days to fix the sidewalks or risk abatement, meaning the city will fix the sidewalk instead, resulting in a bill and lien against the property.
Steffen says repairs costs vary, and the city has received estimates of $6-8 per square foot in the past. But with frequently changing costs of construction, he says it can be hard to know for sure how much a repair could cost.
Those suffering through financial hardships, however, may be given more time to work out a solution with the city.
"The city's not that draconian in the way we handle these things. If we have somebody that has a financial hardship, or what have you, we can look at those issues as they arise," he said.
The city will be responsible for fixing sidewalks on city property and sidewalk not adjacent to any privately owned properties.
"It's very unpopular, obviously, when we send out a large amount of letters like this that require property owners to spend money," Steffen said. "It is a necessary thing, though. I mean, sidewalk safety is important."