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Lancaster residents hit with unexpected sidewalk repair bills

The city is sending out notices in conjunction with ongoing street improvement projects. Repairs could cost residents thousands of dollars.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Residents and business owners on West Lemon Street in Lancaster say they’re in a pickle.

“People are leery about replacing them, if you can notice no one has done it yet," said Allison Smithgall, who owns Smithgall's Pharmacy and lives on West Lemon Street.

Smithgall, the daughter of former Lancaster mayor Charlie Smithgall, is referring to the sidewalks along her neighborhood, which city officials say need to be repaired before a repaving project along West Lemon Street begins.

The city sent notices to residents along West Lemon Street and other neighborhoods, reminding them that sidewalk repairs are the responsibility of the property owner.

But neighbors say they don’t understand the point, when ongoing utility line replacements may just rip them up again.

“It’s not that I’m trying to shirk doing it; I want to do it," said George Bechtold. "But why do it twice?”

Lancaster is considered a third-class city and by Pennsylvania law, that means residents who live adjacent to a sidewalk are on the hook for making and paying for repairs.

“Certainly since 2015, this has been the law, and has been the way the city of Lancaster has been dealing with repairs and maintenance of their sidewalks," said Stephen Campbell, the director of public works for the city of Lancaster.

West Lemon is just one of several streets where residents are receiving notice letters.

This year, the city has sent out more than 700 repair notices.

That's well above its typical average of 250.

Campbell says part of it is playing catch-up from the pandemic, but there’s also more urgency as a number of road projects get underway.

“That’s our opportunity to try to improve the pedestrian infrastructure as well," said Campbell.

He clarifies that residents will not be asked to do work twice, and if a sidewalk is damaged during a gas line replacement, the utility company will repair it.

The city has also introduced a sidewalk assistance pilot program to help residents through the process.

It guarantees the work is done up to city standards at a fair price, and in some cases residents can even get a discount, along with a three-year warranty.

“It avoids the idea of a property owner having to become a project manager, managing a private contractor to do work that often time the property owner is not familiar with," said Campbell.

If a property owner fails to complete sidewalk repairs before the required deadline, the city has the ability to complete the work on their behalf, but a lien will be placed on the property.

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