Sidewalk repair bills rack up

9-18-13-sidewalk repairs
The sidewalk was recently replaced in front of Mack Ferrell's North Portland home -- and it came with an unexpected bill from the city the week of Sept. 18, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the city of Portland’s effort to get homeowners to pay for sidewalk repairs, they’re racking up the bills to Portland-area property owners.

But on Tuesday a North Portland homeowner questioned the price it’s charging. Others question whether what the city is doing is legal or even ethical — considering Portland, in some cases, is requiring homeowners to repair sidewalks damaged by the city’s own tree plantings.

This past week the city council approved nearly $90,000 worth of sidewalk repair bills to 80 homeowners.

“Portland is like many other cities where we take care of the streets,” said Diane Dalkin with the Portland Bureau of Transportation on KOIN 6 News Tuesday, “and the property owner does take care of the sidewalk.”

The Portland Bureau of Transportation reports it can legally decide how much to charge for sidewalk repairs. Those rates, it reports, are based on giving employees a “prevailing wage” — which may include union contract terms.

“It’s also based on whatever contracts the city awards out to independent contractors to do the work,” said Portland Deputy City Auditor Dan Schmidt.

But homeowner Mack Ferrell said the quotes he received from contractors were much cheaper than the $7,800 he’s now paying the city.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Ferrell said. “I mean if the city is going to plant these trees — and these trees are so invasive that they destroy the sidewalk — then there should be some give and take.”

The only reason Ferrell went with Portland crews is because he already had done half the work himself. Portlanders do have the right to do the work on their own, or hire a contractor, for sidewalk repairs. They still need to apply for a sidewalk repair permit through the Bureau of Transportation, and will need to follow city code to pass inspection.

In Ferrell’s case, “We dug it all up with jack hammers, and hauled away the cement and everything…,” he told KOIN 6 News. “So I thought the bill would be a lot cheaper since I had dug it all out and hauled it away.”

They tore out 85 feet of sidewalk next to his north Portland home. Underneath he found maple roots — from trees he said the city had planted. The roots weren’t removed by the city crews, and Ferrell worries that the problem of his buckled sidewalk will just return again.

Ferrell and other homeowners who have the city do their sidewalk repairs are getting the benefit of payment plans. However, they have to pay interest on the “loan.” Interest ranges from 2% to 6%. Their bills also include a city “administrative” fee.

“I need to continue with my payments or they will put a lien on the home,” Ferrell said. He said this puts him in a scary situation.

“You work all your life and you get to a situation such as this,” he said in a follow-up interview with KOIN 6 News, “and you just wonder what can be done to relieve some of the burden off of the homeowner.”

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