Friday, June 20, 2008

Sidewalk Tax

I live a life of luxury, amenity, and commodity* outside of city limits, so I did not receive a $25 or $150 sidewalk bill like many of you folk. However, I am aware of said bill, and have some thoughts on the matter.

(*By life of luxury, I of course mean that only the left side of my basement floods when it rains.)

People are pissed about the tax. The most prevalent argument seems to be "I don't have a sidewalk in front of my house, so why should I have to pay?". This argument is not proper--sidewalks are an appropriate care of a government--i.e. the entirety of the people. Even if there isn't a sidewalk in front of your house, odds are you use one in a public area. Most people believe that having sidewalks, at least on busy streets, is enough of a safety benefit to public health as to warrant public money. Sidewalks are necessary, and since it doesn't make sense to have people individually building sidewalks, it's the government's/the citizens' job.

The problem, for me, is that sidewalks are not taken care of by the 83 MILLION DOLLARS ALREADY COLLECTED EACH YEAR BY THE CITY! Roads and sidewalks are like priority #3 for the city government, yet non-profit grants and the city magazine are funded before sidewalks? Poppycock! Even if you group sidewalks separate from roads, the city priorities look like this:

1. public safety
2. infrastructure (water, sewer)
3. roads
4. sidewalks
5. public works services (trash removal, etc.)

I will not accept that in the entirety of the general budget, sidewalks cannot be funded. But what I am willing to accept doesn't matter--it's what the city council is willing to do. The council passed the tax in October of last year, apparently a time in history when "tax" meant not a forced seizure of money. Alderman Hoyle, in particular, seems confused. The fee "wasn't a big deal", she remarked. Mrs. Hoyle also added "It has gotten racial, with people saying 'The city wants to build sidewalks so Hispanics can walk the streets'", a statement which is more lacking in appropriateness than my choice of bright magenta for the color of tile in my foyer.

Fortunately, the city council is not beyond persuasion if they realize they have made a political error, and reeling has already started. Alderman Cordle, amongst others, seemed to take both sides of the issue, and an article today revels that the future of this tax could involve repeal, amendment, or even immunity from action. The normally solid Alderman Paone, in a move that will surely anger his fan club (though possibly not his ward), suggested that "he also would be open to amending the bill if residents without sidewalks didn't have to pay the tax", handily opposing the point I made in the second paragraph.

More evidence supporting a structural problem with this tax (rather than the idea of the tax itself) comes from Eastport activist and provocateur Bob McWilliams, who researched some data for Los Angeles, which adopted a similar policy:

1) They have 10,750 miles of sidewalk

2) 43% or 4,600 miles are in need of repair (and that's in a climate that doesn't have the freeze and thaw of winter)

3) If not one more sidewalk breaks, Los Angles estimates it will take
83 years to fix what is currently broken

4) Los Angles estimates that it will cost $1.2 billion to fix their 4,600 miles of broken sidewalk.

5) Annually, Los Angles spends $3,000,000 on lawsuits over broken sidewalks.


Bob estimates Annapolis' burden as a fraction of that total, and calculates a total liability created by this law of $7.5 million--not a good cost-benefit analysis when you consider that the measure will generate only about $500,000 in taxes.

Sidewalks should be funded out of the general fund. The city would be forced to trim other budget items that are probably less useful, and can fix the sidewalks without added legal concern. Time will tell if the political winds will sway such a result.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Find me one mother in this town that is able to push a stroller more than 1 block on a sidewalk before hitting a utility pole.
I have to use the street because the sidewalk is too narrow. My husband and I can't even walk side by side for the most part.

My point is that the side walks are virtually useless regardless on the bumps and cracks, they are just too narrow. Unless there is a major overhaul that involves undergrounding power lines most of the city's sidewalks will still be useless to parents of young children no matter how "smooth" they are.

Anne Arundel Crime said...

Well, with residents now paying specifically FOR the sidewalks, one has to wonder how responsive the city will be to the repairs.

My guess is that it will be business as usual and there will be a $500 cushion for the general fund!

ellis said...

In my neighborhood on Clay Street, the drug dealers love our sidewalks! No complaints come from them at all. With that said, I would not agree that Annapolis' first priority is public safety. I have to call the cops daily and most of those criminals that are apprehended end up back on the streets within days.

ellis said...

In my neighborhood on Clay Street, the drug dealers love our sidewalks! No complaints come from them at all. With that said, I would not agree that Annapolis' first priority is public safety. I have to call the cops daily and most of those criminals that are apprehended end up back on the streets within days.

Anonymous said...

$25 this year, $50 next year, $500 the next year... Where does it end? You watch this "fee" won't remain at $25 for more than one year. It will ballon out of control just like the city's budget.