Denver homeowners and businesses facing the prospect of paying new fees to fuel a voter-approved sidewalk repair and construction program may get a temporary reprieve as city leaders consider delaying the start by six months.
City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval has filed a proposal that would delay the launch of the city’s voter-approved sidewalk repair program fee from Jan. 1 to July 1. She said Friday that the delay would allow more time for fine-tuning of the fee program by a city task force to ensure the charges are collected in an equitable way.
But the delay also would mean that city residents yearning for city crews to begin upgrading ragged walks and rollways in some neighborhoods — and filling in sidewalk gaps elsewhere — may have to wait longer, too. And it would reduce the first-year take, estimated at $40 million, by half.
The council’s land use and infrastructure committee is set to consider the six-month delay in the effective date of the program on Tuesday, with final action by the full council possible in the weeks ahead.
The formula included in last November’s Denver Deserves Sidewalks initiative means property owners will be charged wildly varying fees based on the linear frontage of their property and the type of street. A estimation tool available on the city’s sidewalks website shows that homes in the middle of blocks on residential streets could pay less than $150 per year, while those that fall on busy streets — and especially on busy corners — could pay more than $1,000 a year, even if the property itself has a relatively low valuation.
“I have heard concerns that we have implemented a fee without the ability for the task force to change the ordinance and the fee structure,” said Sandoval, who represents the city’s northwest District 1 and chairs the land use committee. “I don’t think it takes into account seniors who may be on fixed incomes and allowing them to opt out.”
Sandoval pointed to the council-enacted pay-as-you-throw trash hauling changes that went into effect this year. Low-income residents are eligible for discounts of 50 to 100% of those costs.
For the sidewalks measure, the authors included a 20% fee discount for property owners in neighborhoods the city has deemed vulnerable to economic displacement.
The city task force charged with examining the sidewalk law and creating rules about its implementation only recently began meeting. Sandoval said group needs more time to do its work before bills potentially start reaching property owners in January.
The fee’s variability was panned by critics in the lead-up to the November 2022 election. But those concerns weren’t enough to dissuade voters fed up with a system in which sidewalk repairs were the sole obligation of property owners — while a wide swath of the city had inadequate infrastructure for pedestrians and wheelchair users.
The measure passed with nearly 56% of the vote.
Jill Locantore co-authored the ballot measure and led the campaign that got it passed. She is the executive director of the Denver Streets Partnership, an advocacy group, and is now part of task force looking at the measure’s implementation.
She lamented that the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure didn’t convene the task force earlier this year so that it could address equity concerns sooner.
“Regardless, potential refinements to the fee structure (are) a top priority for the committee to discuss, and hopefully we can develop recommendations quickly so the city can start collecting the fee earlier in 2024,” Locantore said of the potential delay.
The fee is set up to be collected in two installments each year alongside stormwater bills. Some of the expected revenue already is earmarked to create a sidewalks master plan that will guide efforts to repair, replace and install hundred of miles of damaged or missing sidewalks in the city.
Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the city’s infrastructure department, said in an email that property owners with the means are encouraged to pay for their own sidewalk repairs before the program gets up and running. But they won’t get credit when it comes time to pay the fees.
“The ordinance does not exempt a property owner from paying the fee,” she said, “nor does it provide for refunds or credits if someone chooses to repair or replace their sidewalk on their own.”
Stay up-to-date with Colorado Politics by signing up for our weekly newsletter, The Spot.