As part of the $ 3.5 million investment, this cracked sidewalk on Lorine Street is expected to be repaired in 2022. (Bailey Lewis / Community Impact Newspaper)
In its mission to become the most family-friendly city in Texas, Keller City Council will spend $ 3.5 million in fiscal year 2021-2022 to repair the city’s sidewalks.
But the decision to invest so much money to address one of the biggest complaints from Keller residents had humble beginnings, Keller’s budgets show.
Prior to this year, sidewalk funding was scarce. Funds were not allocated for sidewalks until the city’s 2016-2017 fiscal year budget. Even then, the funding for sidewalk repairs and improvements stood at $ 80,000, a stark contrast to $ 3.5 million.
Investment increased in part because city leaders listened to their constituents, Keller Mayor Armin Mizani said.
“We see the sidewalk repair program as a way for us not only to fulfill this mission of becoming the friendliest city for families. [in Texas], but also by addressing one of the main concerns of residents that we have heard over the years, ”said Mizani.
Choose to invest
When Sean Hicks, acting mayor of Keller and a member of the city council, was first elected in 2016 and reviewed the budget, he said he was ‘shocked’ to learn how little the city cared about sidewalks.
This sparked conversations about funding sidewalk improvements. City Council started with a sidewalk maintenance budget six years ago, allocating $ 30,000 for new sidewalk construction and $ 50,000 for sidewalk maintenance. Hicks said he believes a more substantial commitment is needed.
“At this rate, it was going to take us 116 years to clear the backlog of sidewalk issues,” Hicks said. “I started to put pressure on the staff and my fellow board members to increase this budget.”
The following fiscal year, the council budgeted $ 130,000 for construction and repairs. The following year, the board added an additional $ 30,000. For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the board more than doubled the budget to $ 351,693. The past year has seen only a slight increase.
But the council decided to increase the stake this year and focus on “getting the government back to its core functions,” Mizani said. The city spends approximately three times as much on sidewalk maintenance in this fiscal year than it spent in fiscal year 2016-17 through fiscal year 2020-21 combined.
Not only that, but the city was years behind in repairing sidewalks. So when city council met in March for a budget workshop, Mizani said funding for sidewalk repairs was “one of the main items” discussed.
Despite the high cost of sidewalk repairs, council was still able to lower the tax rate for this fiscal year. Mizani said it was because they had a “rainy day fund” way above what they thought, so they tapped into it.
“This is how we came up with this $ 3.5 million investment,” Mizani said. “It was a high priority item for the council based on citizen feedback and wanting to eliminate the six year backlog we had.”
“Sidewalk scouts” lend a hand
In the fall of 2020, the city launched a three-month volunteer program for sidewalk scouts. Alonzo Liñán, director of Keller’s public works department, said about 20 to 25 citizen volunteers walked the city’s sidewalks to identify problem areas.
Each volunteer was assigned an area close to their place of residence. Their job was to assess and take photos of the damaged sidewalks and upload them to an app created especially for the program, Liñán said. The public works department updated the volunteers every week until the end of the program in December 2020.
Kerri Dorsett, a Keller resident who volunteered for the program, said that while most of the sidewalks she saw had minimal damage, some areas had irregularities, dissolution and cracks, which may to be dangerous.
“I have friends who, when I told them what we were doing, they said, ‘Oh that’s great because I was walking my dog, and I tripped and fell “” said Dorsett. “So, especially for our older citizens, it can make a big difference. “
Adam Dougherty, a board member for Keller Parks and Recreation, also volunteered as a sidewalk scout. Dougherty said he saw a lot of concrete movement, resulting in areas that were not level and could be dangerous for the elderly and children.
“If you are carting with your kids, grandchildren, or hiking, biking or walking early in the morning or late at night, [someone] could dive and be injured, ”said Dougherty.
Repairs identified by Sidewalk Scouts were entered into a database under one of three categories: immediate need, structural or cosmetic. Only non-cosmetic issues will be discussed.
The city has identified 3,000 non-cosmetic sidewalk issues requiring repair, Liñán said. In doing so, staff compiled a sidewalk maintenance map showing each location in need of repair.
The issues identified are prioritized according to the effect on residents, “with large cracks or heaves taking precedence over flaking or aesthetic issues as well as proximity to schools, parks and other pedestrian activity centers, ”the city wrote in a Sept. 14 statement. Facebook post.
“So right now what we are focusing on is the whole backlog of known needs that are not aesthetic,” Liñán said.
A family future
With $ 3.5 million earmarked for 3,000 sidewalk repairs, Mizani said the goal is to complete the work by the end of the fiscal year.
After months of hard work, Dorsett and Dougherty say they are delighted that the city is investing so much money in repairing the sidewalks that they helped make.
“It’s nice to live in a city that puts its money back into its infrastructure and doesn’t just ignore what’s going on,” said Dougherty.
But the repairs are only scratching the surface of the city’s sidewalk plans for the future. According to the budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, the city plans to contribute $ 250,000 per year for new repair requests.
An examination of the map of the city’s sidewalk locations shows an apparent disconnect between the number of sidewalks in North and South Keller. Liñán said this was because the city’s development plan was to create a “more suburban” development south of FM 1709.
Liñán said that because of this there is “a denser network” of sidewalks in southern Keller.
” This does not mean [north Keller is] is not going to have sidewalks, ”Liñán said. “It’s part of the discussion.
Next year’s capital improvement plan will spend $ 2.5 million on sidewalk voids, and fiscal years 2023-24 to 2024-25 combined will spend $ 1.1 million on repairing sidewalk voids in the north by Keller.
“Our goal to be the most family-friendly town in Keller means we have to have a connected town,” Hicks said. “Sidewalks are necessary to get to schools safely, and our residents like to walk regularly. “