Divided Portage council gives go-ahead to sidewalks

March 30, 2019

A divided Portage Common Council on Thursday set the wheels in motion for sidewalk additions and improvements in the city’s northeast sector.

The decisions came after two residents affected by this year’s sidewalk program asked the council to hold off on building not just these sidewalks, but all sidewalks throughout the city, pending further study and prioritization.

“At this time, the residents of Yellowstone Street are asking city leaders to suspend all of the proposed sidewalk projects in the city…and conduct a sidewalk needs study,” Jessica Fandrich read from a letter she distributed to each council member, during a public hearing on the Ward 9 sidewalk project.

Her neighbor, Dylan Herman, echoed that position from the council chamber’s podium: “I really hope you guys consider suspending the sidewalk program or eliminating it altogether.”

Both the council’s votes related to the sidewalk program were divided, albeit on slightly different lines.

On the resolution to the sidewalk construction contract to Concrete Service Company for $93,046, the vote was 4-2, with one abstention.

On the resolution declaring intent to exercise special assessment powers, to pay for part of the sidewalk project’s cost with assessments to adjacent property owners (including Herman and Fandrich), the vote was 5-2.

The “no” votes for both resolutions came from council members Bill Kutzke and Mark Hahn. Hahn represents District 2, where the sidewalk project is located.

Kutzke said the public hearing testimony of Fandrich and Herman persuaded him.

“Are we going ahead with a project that people object to?” he asked.

Public Works Director Aaron Jahncke said the sidewalk policy that the city inaugurated in 2014 calls for ensuring that the system of sidewalks is connected as much as possible.

Connectivity is particularly important in this area because several public schools are located there and schoolchildren need safe places to walk, he said.

“We’re filling in sidewalks that weren’t there before,” Jahncke said.

Council member Rita Maass noted, however, that with or without sidewalks, the crossing at East Slifer Street and Yellowstone Avenue needs to be made safer, as it’s a frequently-used route for children walking to and from school.

“A good share of kids cross there, and traffic doesn’t slow down,” she said.

At a previous meeting, the Portage Common Council had removed some residences, on about 600 feet of East Slifer Street, from this year’s sidewalk project, because the walks would have ended up in the back yards of some neighbors. Jahncke said the council resolutions, and the $93,000 cost of the property, both reflected the removal of those properties from the project.

And, for residents who are getting 5-foot-wide sidewalks to replace 4-foot-wide sidewalks, the assessment will be just for the cost of the additional foot of width, noted council member Dennis Nachreiner.

The sidewalk project in northeast Portage is separate from the sidewalks proposed as part of this year’s street reconstruction project in the West Carroll Street area. To hold the line on debt, the city undertakes sidewalk projects in odd-numbered years and alley projects in even-numbered years.