FOX19 Investigates: Cincinnati property owners hit with $630,000 - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates: Cincinnati property owners hit with $630,000 in sidewalk repairs

(PHOTO: FOX19 NOW/ Jody Barr) (PHOTO: FOX19 NOW/ Jody Barr)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

In 2013, the city of Cincinnati billed dozens of property owners for sidewalk repairs after city inspectors found cracked and crumbling sidewalks in the Westwood area. Since the new city manager got to town last fall, the city's doubled the 2013 repair charges.

The city charged property owners $207,758.50 for sidewalk repairs in 2013. Those charges were billed to businesses and residential properties whose owners did not pay the city the cost of sidewalk repairs within 30 days of the work.

Since the fall of 2014, Cincinnati City Council voted to charge those who live in East Price Hill, Spring Grove Village and Oakley a total of $422,703.23 for repairs the city made to sidewalks.

There are more repair bills coming.

NEIGHBORHOODS ALREADY PAYING

In 2013, 214 Westwood homeowners saw $207,758.50 tacked onto their property tax bills after the City of Cincinnati repaired sidewalks those homeowners wouldn't repair themselves. City council voted to approve the property tax assessments and many of those property owners are still paying that bill today.

“So, I just sort of ignored it. That's what I did, really. Just ignored it," Jeanette Keating told FOX19 about the $646.91 repair bill the city sent her.

Keating, who lives on Fleetwood Avenue with her retired husband, said the couple lives check-to-check on a fixed income and could not afford to pay.

“I thought it was kind of unfair to bill two people who are on a fixed income--to charge them that much anyway,” Keating said, “It's a public sidewalk out there. That's the way I feel about it.”

In 2014, soon after Cincinnati's new City Manager Harry Black took office, city council voted to approve $422,703.23 in sidewalk repair assessments. Those charges went to 146 Spring Grove Village property owners, 82 East Price Hill property owners and Oakley property owners.

Betty Ventura lives on Edgewood Avenue in Spring Grove Village and holds the highest repair charge of all homeowners in her neighborhood at $2,890.79.

“It's not that easy to come by anymore and as you can see, there's an awful lot of sidewalk here to repair,” Ventura told FOX19 NOW during an interview outside her home in March.

The damage she's paying for, according to Ventura, was done by contractors who replaced a gas line and repaved the street beside her home. Contractors, she said, were parking cement trucks on the sidewalk so they would not block the narrow street.

One contractor replaced a single section of Ventura's sidewalk, but she owes the city for the rest.

There's evidence on Ventura's new sidewalk that she might be paying for more repairs soon. “You can see where cars have gone over my curb,” Ventura said as she showed us tire tracks on the new concrete.

A steel distribution business at 4501 Chickering Avenue in Spring Grove Village owes the city $5,268 after the city's contractor made repairs to multiple sections of sidewalk along Chickering Avenue.

In 2013, the Glenway Avenue AutoZone store got hit with a $4,530 repair bill.

The highest residential charge in 2013 went to a home on Ravogli Avenue. The city billed that homeowner $4,315.01 for sidewalk repairs.

CITY'S OFFERING NO APOLOGIES FOR THE LAW

We requested an interview with city manager Harry Black for this report, but the city instead offered up the director of the city's Transportation and Engineering department, Michael Moore.

“By law, the sidewalks are the responsibility of the abutting property owner,” Moore told FOX19.

When questioned about homeowners paying for something anyone could use, Moore said the city considered that argument when it passed the ordinance decades ago. “It can be a matter of if the city assumes that, there's a need for additional resources to cover that. Usually in the form of taxes,” Moore said.

Moore's department estimates it would cost taxpayers $250 million if the city took over maintenance and repair of the city's 1,730 miles of public sidewalks.

The cost to maintain sidewalks, like public roads, is everyone's responsibility, Ventura said.

"They could probably still take care of it if they didn't do some of the extra things they do these days,” Ventura told FOX19 NOW.

Last week, Cincinnati City Council voted to approve sidewalk assessments for several streets in the Oakley neighborhood. Those assessments totaled $247,080.60.

The city allows property owners the option of placing the charges on their property tax bills with options to repay the city for the repairs over 3, 5, 10 and up to 20 years. The city does charge interest on the repayment.

There are plans for more sidewalk assessments for the city's neighborhoods in the coming months.

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