Friday, January 19, 2007


The wheels of government turn very slowly.

Here's a case in point. This time, last year, the City Council was invited to hear a presentation by the Shelley Elementary School Community Council. Problem: Sidewalks.

Everybody who is anybody was there: the principal, the PTA, the parents, school district officials, the Mayor and members of the City Council. There were handouts; there was Power Point; there were pictures. There was even a special guest appearance by Michael Gray, a fifth-grade student who makes his way to school each morning in a wheelchair.

We were given to understand, in vivid technicolor, exactly how bad the sidewalks are in the Shelley area. The overwhelming consensus, on the part of the City, was of the urgent need to fix the problem.

Now we fast forward one year to the present. One could almost conclude that nothing has happened. The sidewalks remain in the same sorry condition. Michael Gray braves the same route to school he did last year, a route that follows crumbling sidewalks, roads with no sidewalks, and corners where he has to bump himself down off the curb -- there are no curb cuts for ADA access.

Because of this apparent lack of progress, we on the City Council felt a pressing need to account to the Shelley Community Council. So we asked for a meeting. Here is the report we gave, summing the year's progress:
  • We authorized a transfusion of $100,000 to the sidewalk fund. This is the fund the City uses to split the cost of sidewalk repair with property owners. Before the transfusion, this category was funded at $10,000 per year, not nearly enough to address the need for safe sidewalks throughout the City.
  • We passed a tax increase to raise the money -- a tax increase which is surely a pulsing pustule on the public posterior -- but which was needed to fund this and many other cases of deteriorating infrastructure throughout the City.
  • We ordered the Public Works department to conduct a city-wide sidewalk inventory. The inventory showed $140,000 of need in the Shelley area alone. (Winter weather has stalled the inventory's completion, but we expect to have a complete picture of the City's needs later this year.)
  • We made the decision not to split the cost with the property owners in this low-income area, but instead to seek federal aid for the match money. The Public Works department is now in the process of applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) -- a process which includes meetings, meetings, meetings, an income survey, a public hearing, and waiting, waiting, waiting. The Public Works department has also secured the services of an outside engineering firm to help with additional grantseeking.*
If our grantseeking efforts do not succeed, it will take the City a minimum of two years to fund the entire Shelley sidewalk project. On the other hand, if we do get these grants, the project will be fast-tracked, and completion will be within reach by the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.

This will be just twenty months after the request was made, not bad for a project involving both local and federal governments and $140,000 of taxpayer money. But it will be too late for Michael Gray.

For in those same twenty months, Michael will have graduated from fifth grade to sixth grade, and from sixth grade to junior high.

Conclusion: The wheels of government turn very slowly.

This kills me. But the good news is that when the sidewalk inventory is complete, and with the sidewalk fund receiving $100,000 each year, the City will be able to make steady progress toward the goal of safe routes to all our American Fork schools.

*Note: In this discussion of sidewalks in the Shelley area, I'm actually referring to the roads along the school's "Child Access Routing Plan." This is the route the school is required to file with the school district; it includes only the most immediate walking routes into the school. Thus, the $140,000 mentioned above does not cover all sidewalks in the Shelley area, and the waiver of property owner participation applies only in this area which has been defined as low-income by CDBG standards. Fortunately, the Shelley area also includes many neighborhoods of newer development where the sidewalks are still in good repair.


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