The Paonia Town Council last night walked back their “fix the sidewalk or else” approach, after hearing from residents upset about a letter requiring sidewalk repair, based on a decades-old ordinance that has never been enforced. Residents who failed to comply would have been faced with a $1000 fine which could take the form of a lien on their home if they failed to pay.
Paonia citizens waited through eleven agenda items and several reports before the opportunity to talk about sidewalks finally arrived. By then, one 37-year resident of the town had a bit of pent up anger.
"I take care of my sidewalks, I take care of my mother’s sidewalks," the man said, "but when she gets a letter that she doesn’t understand, threatening her with a thousand dollar fine for a few weeds growing on her sidewalk...you need to go about this a different way. Talk to the home owners, don’t send them a letter, explain it to them."
Loretha Rolf received an ovation for her comments. She said that while the council worries about Paonia's sidewalks being pedestrian friendly, the town's streets have "potholes that will swallow a Smart Car."
Rolf is the administrator at Paonia Care and Rehab Center, and also works with the community's veterans and families. Based on her experience, she expressed concern about the town's elderly population being the target of fines.
"They do not have the money to fix sidewalks in front of their street, they do not," Rolf said. "So you’re going to take their houses from them? You’re going to put a tax lien on them? That is not acceptable in my mind, and in my town. It’s not okay."
"The town I know can’t afford to plow my street, so I try to get out there or get help to shovel my own walk, and that’s hard enough," said Diane Sylvain, adding that she'd like the town in turn to be more considerate about the costs and time it takes for residents to fix sidewalks.
If some council members were on the defensive, it’s because they asked voters in 2011 to approve a $3 per month surcharge to the water and trash fee to finance sidewalk repair, and even that small amount was rejected by voters.
But in the end, the council decided to hold their letter “in abeyance” and take more time to find a solution to one of Paonia’s bumpy problems. As part of that process, they’ll take another look at 2007’s sidewalk report.