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City should rethink sidewalk repairs

June 08, 2012

It’s big of the City of Hagerstown to, if all goes as planned, offer loans to citizens to help them pay for sidewalk repairs that the city itself is demanding they perform.

At least the city seemed to think so.

We concede that the public officials’ hearts might be in the right place, but we would urge them to take a longer view of the issue.

Low-interest loans (if 5 percent can be called low these days) might be a slightly more humane way of telling a homeowner he or she is liable for an unplanned expense that can run into the thousands of dollars. But it strikes us as handing an inmate a glass of water to make it easier to swallow the poison pill.

True, a city loan program might save someone from having to sell a family heirloom and — odd as it sounds to say it — it might be easier than securing a loan from some banks.

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But we would ask the city to consider that this might be a good time to take its largesse a bit further.

Council members undoubtedly know the city demographic better than we do, so they certainly understand the number of people in town on fixed incomes — or no incomes.

A new sidewalk, to these people, must seem like a jaw-dropping luxury when they are struggling just to buy medicine or food.

In what might amount to a “reverse stimulus,” perhaps the city could defer sidewalk repair for those who can demonstrate a clear hardship. It doesn’t put money in their pockets, but at least it would prevent its removal.

We know the need for maintenance and we know that people can trip and fall and sue. But in a painfully slow economy, we believe the bigger risk is to people who plain and simple can’t afford to replace a sidewalk at the moment, loan or no loan.

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