Morgantown City Council: Who owns (or should own) sidewalks?
The Morgantown City Council spent most of Thursday night’s monthly meeting in a lengthy discussion of the draft sidewalk ordinance. The proposed ordinance updates the city’s current sidewalk ordinance, but nearly all debate centered on whether to make the additional change of making the city responsible for maintenance and repair of sidewalks. The proposed ordinance leaves intact the old requirement that property owners are responsible for maintaining their stretch of sidewalk.
Council member Terrell House stated that everyone thinks the city owns its sidewalks, so why shouldn’t the city “man up” and take full ownership, which would include responsibility for maintenance. Council member Allen Meredith suggested that leaving that responsibility with property owners could cause inconsistency in the sidewalks with different owners using different mixes of concrete. Council member Dionne Merritt asked since the city has put the burden on property owners since 1955, why does the city want to enforce it now?; Mayor Linda Keown replied that the city found out “We’re liable.” Council member Russell Givens asked how the city will go about paying for sidewalks in the future since no sidewalk fund exists like there is a street fund. House and other Council members replied that sidewalk work could be funded the way the recent sidewalk projects have been, as the need arises. Council member Gary Southerland said that so far the city has targeted sidewalks with safety issues and that “People are so tickled at what we’ve done” with sidewalk improvements. Visitor Casey Turci addressed the Council and argued against the city taking over maintenance, stating that property owners should bear responsibility for their portion of sidewalk the same way they have to maintain the brakes on their cars. Meredith and Givens disagreed, favoring city responsibility. Givens said that the city must be protected from liability and moved to postpone action on the draft ordinance until the city attorney could review the ordinance. The Council approved the postponement.
The Council discussed their efforts to identify and prioritize the information they want on the proposed new city website. Mayor Keown re-emphasized the importance of the website in recruiting business, saying industry rarely comes to city officials to request information on a community. Council members talked about inclusion of required permits and licenses, information on schools and libraries, existing industry, available office space, and a history of Morgantown. The Council decided to have a work session on October 15 on forming a prioritized list of information needed on the website.
Other ordinances and agreements were briefly discussed at the meeting. The lease for the Butler County Ambulance Board to move into the former Pizza Zone building was not quite ready to be acted upon due to boundary and lease length issues; a shorter 10-year lease is being considered instead of the 50-year proposed lease. The Morgantown Police Department is working on a new parking ordinance to address potentially dangerous parking practices such as parking facing the wrong direction and backing into parking spaces. Mayor Keown said that the city’s next ordinance focus would be on blighted and vacant property.
Mayor Keown reported that she had gotten a lot of compliments on how the city looks with fall decorations. Keown added that the appearance of a town has impact when prospective businesses visit. However, Keown said she had received complaints about old indoor furniture on porches of some residences and about yard signs put on street sign posts. Keown also said that the city is watching more for vandalism after some of the fall displays had pumpkins missing and after a city park restroom had been vandalized. Keown also reported that shrubs at the entrance of the city park had been removed to improve visibility and safety.
MPD Chief Charlie Swiney reported a busy September with 430 calls for service, 13 cases opened, and 13 accidents worked. Swiney attributed the activity to the early part of the school year and construction in the US 231 project. Swiney stated that Officers Ethan Vincent and James Embry are scheduled to graduate from the state police academy and that the city’s new police cruisers will be ready soon.
In other business, the city accepted the low bid by Green River Waste to clear Industrial Park property. A letter from the city of Morgantown to the city of Bowling Green will be sent Friday, October 11 regarding the dispute over the old Bowling Green landfill property and Bowling Green’s attempt to sell to Owls Head Alloys. Council member Russell Givens said 15 street signs have been identified as missing, and replacement signs have been ordered.
* * *
Story by Don Thomason, BtN/WLBQ