More sidewalks are coming to the Hillcrest subdivision area after the Poynette Village Board approved the final special assessments to property owners, as well as the lowest qualified bid, during a Feb. 8 meeting.
The project has been talked about for several years, with the Board voting down the project twice. Last year, the project went out for bid — the village received two bids — but the Board voted against accepting the lowest bid. The project came back, and went through all the necessary steps again, with approval of the two items on Feb. 8 being the final step before the project can officially begin.
There are 26 properties that will be affected by the upcoming project — three are owned by the village — that will only pay for their necessary stretch of sidewalk. In total, residents will pay $74,120.77 toward the project. The village will pay $7,919 in assessments for its three properties, in addition to the remaining $90,880 of the estimated project costs.
Residents have spoken at previous meetings — as well as at the Feb. 8 meeting — with a majority of those speaking, being against the sidewalks and assessments. There have also been a handful of people to speak in approval of both. Some residents also brought up the fact that this project wouldn’t be at the forefront if not for the school being built and wondered if the school district should be paying part of the costs.
The Board approved the final assessments to property owners by a 4-2 vote. Trustees Steve Mueller, Bill Boor, Judainne Stronach and Jerry Burke voted to approve, while Chris Polzer and Terri Fiore voted against them.
The four sections of sidewalk being added are on:
— The south side of Colby Boulevard starting at Main Street and stretching west past W. Seward, which connects to an existing sidewalk;
— The east side of West Seward from North Street, stretching south to just beyond Meadow Lane;
— The south side of Sunset Drive from West Seward going west to the connection of the existing sidewalk; and
— The west side of West Seward between North Street and Colby Boulevard.
The village budgeted $150,000 for the project, but the lowest bid by JB Johnson Bros. LLC came in at $137,275. It was the lowest of eight bids. The Board also accepted JB Johnson Bros. bid by a 4-2 vote.
When the project went out for bid last year, of those two bids, the lowest was at $134,652.50, but it did not include an asphalt trail in front of the fire department or a small stretch of sidewalk on the west side of W. Seward Street from North Street to Colby Boulevard.
“The bid received by JB Johnson is very good,” Shanks said in a memo. “The Board has discussed this project at length over the last two years. If this is a project that the Village intends to do, it seems unlikely that the Village will ever get a better bid than the one it has received, particularly with the items that were added on for this year’s bidding.”
Both of the additions came during the most recent process of getting approval. The asphalt trail will provide the final piece of connectivity for those walking from the Hillcrest neighborhood to the elementary school.
Johnson Bros. LLC is based out of Edgerton. According to Village Engineer Kory Anderson, who works with General Engineering Company out of Portage, the village has not worked with JB Johnson Bros. previously. However, Anderson stated that the Edgerton company has recently completed similar projects in Janesville, and they are a reputable contractor.
Anderson submitted a brief report on the basis of the project. This phase of sidewalk construction is being done to improve pedestrian safety and provide a connection network to the existing sidewalks in the Hillcrest/Colby subdivision neighborhood. The work involved includes — but is not limited to — tree removal, grading, aggregate base course and new sidewalks. Replacement trees will be planted for each one that is removed.
Anderson listed several benefits to this phase of the project. Improved sidewalks, pedestrian safety, and handicapped access benefit the adjacent properties as well as the Village as a whole.
Because JB Johnson Bros. LLC’s bid came in almost $13,000 below the village’s estimate, special assessments on property owners were adjusted from January estimates. The costs that are assessed are based on actual construction costs and not preliminary estimates.
While the change doesn’t show a huge disparity in final costs to the the property owners, each property does save anywhere from $137-$460 in assessment.
Costs to property owners still range from $1,710.50 all the way up to $5,100. Like a previous project done on East and West Mill Street in 2018 and 2019, the village is allowing property owners to pay off their assessments in 10 installments over a 10-year period with 0% interest attached.
Village Administrator’s reactions and recommendations
Village Administrator Martin Shanks provided a detailed memo to the Board prior to the meeting, addressing why he felt it was in the village’s best interest to complete this phase of the project, despite some negative feelings from affected homeowners.
A big issue was economic hardship, with many struggling amid the pandemic. But Shanks noted the assessment for this project was based over 10 years for a number of reasons. When the Mill Street projects were assessed in the last few years, there was no way to account for the upcoming pandemic.
“For example, in 2005 the economy was doing very well, many reasonable people would have concluded that assessing properties for public infrastructure would cause very little economic hardship,” Shanks wrote. “However, within three years the economy was suffering its worst recession ever. Long term assessments would have still been in place during those years.”
Shanks also addressed how this project wouldn’t have gone away if the Board rejected it again. There are residents who feel strongly about the necessity of the project.
He also wanted the Board to know that plans change throughout the years, especially since this project wasn’t part of the village’s capital plans.
“A plan is just that, a plan,” Shanks wrote. “Plans change and good organizations take in new information and adapt to changing needs.”
The village re-prioritizes and reviews long-term capital projects each year. Shanks noted that the village “has done some great financial planning in recent years” and can adapt plans because of that.
Also, while this project hasn’t been prioritized in the village five-year capital plan, it still is a top goal to complete a project of this kind based on other documents — Comprehensive Plan, Five-Year Parks and Open Space Plan and other ordinances. Shanks noted that the village’s Comprehensive Plan and Parks Plan “identify the importance of maintaining existing sidewalks, closing gaps in key areas (schools, parks, destinations), and expanding and connecting the system to new developments.”
He added that the highest priority areas for sidewalks are on direct routes, or within four blocks of a school.
Shanks also addressed those gaps in sidewalk connections. The Hillcrest subdivision was built in five phases — some included sidewalks and some did not. It created gaps in the sidewalk system. Shanks said that within the next 5-7 years, the plan is to close some of the smaller gaps during major infrastructure projects.
“Residents on the west side of the Hillcrest subdivision are disconnected from this off-street system with some of those sidewalks ending right in the middle of some streets,” Shanks said.
Lastly, Shanks addressed the topic he titled, “human nature/bussing not always an option.” He said that given the proximity of the neighborhood to the school, people will inevitably walk to school even if bussing is an option. Shanks brought up the fact that bussing won’t always be an option for certain events. “The school itself may host sporting events and other gatherings outside of school hours that prompt individuals to walk there,” Shanks said. “The new ball fields on the property also present additional reasons why individuals and children may walk to this property outside of school hours, whether for club sports or a neighborhood pick-up game.”