Rexburg City Council and residents debate financing for sidewalk, street and gutter replacements

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Local leaders and residents discuss work to be done in district 51. Photo credit: Elise Forbes

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, members of the Rexburg City Council, Mayor Jerry Merrill, community planners and local residents gathered for a special city council meeting at Nature Park’s west pavilion.

The purpose of the meeting was to address the need to replace sidewalks, streets and gutters in District 51, the residential area of Rexburg located next to the Madison County Fairgrounds and Nature Park.

A street in district 51, the area of Rexburg focused on in the proposal.
A street in district 51, the area of Rexburg focused on in the proposal.

The proposed changes would include additional grass between sidewalks and streets, thus narrowing streets. Mayor Merrill presented potential benefits such as space for snow removal, mailboxes farther from the sidewalks, a lower street maintenance cost and slower driving. Streets would also be replaced.

Merrill explained that the project would be paid for through a Local Improvement District. According to portland.gov, an LID is “A way for a group of property owners to share in the cost of improving a street, building sidewalks, or installing a stormwater management system.”

With an LID, cost of improvements are covered by residents of the area in which the improvements are being made, rather than the whole city. Merrill explained that the city has been financing projects this way for many years, and it would prevent the need for a bond. He also stated that property taxes, although higher this year, would not be sufficient to cover this project. Costs for homeowners would vary based on the amount of sidewalk replacement needed in front of their property, and residents may choose to do the work themselves instead. Street replacement would be paid for by the city.

The meeting was preliminary and an opportunity for residents to understand the proposal and give input to the city council.

Although some residents expressed appreciation, many residents of District 51 were critical of the proposed costs.

“This isn’t a rich town,” said Mona Lords, a local. “We really appreciate that there are updates needing to be done in our area. But this is a low-middle class income area. I don’t know anybody that lives on this side of Second that can put $10,000 on the table for me.”

Citizens posed questions to Rexburg City Council. Do citizens actually want to fund these projects funded through an LID? Is it fair to pose such a cost in an area with lower income? Will the work done be of quality? Who would be held accountable for poor-quality work? Is it fair to have to pay for sidewalks with higher foot traffic because of the Nature Park and Madison Fairgrounds?

The next City Council meeting will be held on Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at 35 N. First E. The meeting will also be live-streamed and can be watched, along with past meetings, here.