Milford works to update sidewalk repair program

A sidewalk behind the post office in Milford shows a need for repair. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — An antiquated city code in Milford is getting a fresh glance thanks to outspoken citizens and councilmembers.

In an effort to beautify the city, the city manager and other leaders have attempted to enforce a previously overlooked code requiring citizens to maintain their sidewalks. The sidewalk repair program, as it was called, launched in July 2018 after University of Delaware students assessed sidewalks throughout the city for their walkability and safety.

The program caused a fast-paced panic amongst residents when they began receiving letters in the mail asking them to take responsibility for their portion of the sidewalk pursuant to the first article in chapter 197 of Milford’s code of ordinances.

The letter gave residents the option to arrange for the repair of their sidewalks or allow the city to do so by a pre-arranged contractor. If the residents chose the second option, they could pay the city back in full or via payment plan with interest, or a lien would be placed on the property.

“Essentially, they [former leaders] came up with a plan and never enforced it, but came up with a code for it,” Mr. Culotta said.

Sidewalks around town have since survived decades and, in some cases, a century. Time has taken its toll and Milford’s leadership was ready for action — almost, according to Mr. Culotta. He was the only councilmember to vote against the program due to reservations he had with its implementation.

“The problem I had was: Are we covering every socioeconomic group,” he asked, suggesting that not every resident had the means to afford such repairs now or even with payment plans.

But he soon discovered — there’s a code for that, too.

“I’m kind of mad at myself for not looking at the code sooner. But, I looked at the code and said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s section D …,” he added.

Although the homeowner, developer or other entity in charge of any given property within city limits of Milford is required to pay for their sidewalk repairs, the code does provide a another option for those who may not be able to do so.

“Property owners who meet the low-income criteria may apply for financial assistance, provided the city funding is available, for the cost of sidewalk repair or replacement,” it reads.

“I just want to make sure that all residents have recourse, have a voice and can essentially be accommodated. That helps me with it. But, from the start this has been a very heavy-handed initiative,” he said. “I was upset that it wasn’t included first, but now it’s becoming a priority, and everybody is getting covered.”

Some residents, like Stephanie Kelly, took to social media to express their distaste for the program, and appreciation for the efforts to offer a helping hand to those in need.

“Had the former council members/commissioners in the past 154 years followed through on their duties, as written in the same ordinance, ‘to ensure that the residents kept their sidewalks in good repair,’ today’s homeowners wouldn’t be forced, by today’s council, to pay for their predecessors incompetency,” she said on Nextdoor.com.

“One could argue that the 154-year-old ordinance doesn’t say anything about sidewalk (replacement), ground filling, leveling, grass seed or sod, all which will be needed at this late date in history. Or the fact that natural underground aquifers over the many years has caused some roads, and sidewalks to sink or cave in, not to mention aged and deteriorating drainage systems. The streets with sinkholes should be properly fixed instead of simply placing band-aids on them. This should be done before the sidewalk repairs/replacements are complete, because more than likely those same sidewalks will have to be replaced again when the street work is finally completed,” she said.

Fixing the sidewalks throughout town, however, is a step in the right direction, Mr. Culotta added.

“We should be doing things to help beautify the city as much as we can,” he said. “It’s taken a group of city leaders that agree and disagree working together to make this work. It’s important and we’re trying to make this as digestible as possible for the homeowner.”

According to Mr. Culotta, the Milford City Council will be discussing the sidewalk repair program at a future council meeting to determine income limits for financial assistance.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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