KCTV5 Investigates: Kansas City's pricey sidewalk repair program - KCTV5

KCTV5 Investigates: Kansas City's pricey sidewalk repair program

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Kathy Krause's sidewalk was reported to the Kansas City Public Works Department several years ago.

"The sidewalks are not any worse than they are on the same block that we live on," she said.

The city considers the small pitted stretch of concrete in front of her house a danger. Krause disagrees.

"There is some debate if this actually has to be done," Krause said. "We had a conversation. Now they (city officials) say if we're willing to put in new caulking here, we don't have to replace this. That's good because it's more expensive."

Krause's sidewalk, just off the state line, is among the 132 addresses on the city's bad sidewalk list provided by city hall to KCTV5 News.

These property owners, on both sides of the river, are learning first-hand about a unique city ordinance putting the cost of sidewalk, curb and driveway repairs back on them.

Sean Demory, spokesperson for the Public Works Department, says the city does realize the significance of what residents are being asked to do.

"This isn't something that we seek out," he said.

Demory points out that the city-ordered repairs come only as a reaction to any sidewalk inquiry or complaint made to the 311 Action Center. Inspectors are sent out after a call comes in about a particular area.

"If it's out of compliance, the property owner has to deal with it," Demory said.

Delphine Sydnor is a property owner who knew nothing about the city's sidewalk rules.

The life-long resident of the east side says she had noticed sidewalk repairs being made on other blocks of her neighborhood. She wanted to find out if she could get a crew onto her own street.

And as she explained to KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux, Sydnor dialed the 311 Action Center herself.

"I called the city enquiring to see whose responsibility it was to repair it," Sydnor said.

"You had no idea what you got yourself into," Chaloux asked.

"None," Sydnor replied. "They came out and marked it off and I was like, ‘Yeah, we are going to get something done.'"

Then a letter came from city hall notifying Sydnor that her sidewalk would be fixed but that she must pay for the work.

"The timing was absolutely off," Sydnor said. "I've been laid off taking care of my 92-year-old mother."

The city letter gives residents 60 days to hire a contractor and get a permit for the repair work, something the financially-strapped Sydnor described as an impossible task.

"It was a lot of money," she said. "I could never pay that lump sum."

The letter ordering repairs did provide a second payment option for property owners. The city will do the construction, and then add the cost to Sydnor's property taxes for the next 10 years.

But the bid for the city contractor to repair the sidewalk, driveway and curb came in at $6,500.

"$6,500 for that portion of my sidewalk was too high," Sydnor said. "I couldn't believe it."

Out of curiosity, she decided to see what a private contractor might charge for the job.

"The estimate he gave me was $4,000 cheaper," Sydnor said.

"$4,000 less," Chaloux asked.

"$4,000 thousand less than what the city had," she said.

Back at City Hall, Chaloux questioned Demory about that price disparity.

"Why is it so different," Chaloux asked. "Why is it so expensive to do business with the city?"

"It is expensive to do business with the city because it has a number of rules that have to be followed in order to be fair," Demory said. "They (property owners) are paying for the process."

KCTV5 has learned that pricey process includes an extra 16 percent administrative fee in addition to the extended payments.

Demory insists the city is not trying to profit from the sidewalk program, and that every bit of that 16 percent fee is needed to complete the work.

"Everyone who touches that project bills to that project; their pay comes from that project," Demory said. "We're not looking to make a buck off this."

City records reveal that 88 percent of property owners on the bad sidewalk list have opted for the city's pricey plan. Perhaps like Sydnor, they cannot afford to do the work.

"The concern is the people who really have no means and coming up with that at all," Sydnor said.

At this point, Sydnor's decided to focus on caring for her ailing mother, concerned of how this will end when the city comes to collect the higher property tax amount for the sidewalk repairs.

"I could never pay that." Sydnor said. "Eventually I would fall into default."

KCTV5 has learned there is some possible movement inside the city council to change the sidewalk policy. For now, the options are limited for property owners whose sidewalks end up on the naughty list.

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