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Cracks are part of having sidewalks, but not all are equal under city code. Ottumwa is tightening requirements, reducing the allowable differences on sidewalks with cracks or separations to three-quarters of an inch, instead of one inch. Repairs or replacement on sidewalks with gaps that are too big is generally the responsibility of the property owner.

OTTUMWA — A quarter-inch shift in the city code could mean extra costs for some property owners.

Sidewalks are, generally speaking, the responsibility of the homeowner whose property they cross. The city is in the process of updating the definitions of defective sidewalks. The first discussion on the proposals took place Tuesday, and the new ordinance will require two more readings before it can come into effect.

Public Works Director Larry Seals said the city is responsible for transition areas where sidewalks reach streets. Those spots have to have textured and colored elements to warn people they are about to enter a roadway. But those sections don’t cover most of the sidewalk’s length.

“The adjacent property owners are responsible for maintaining these sections,” he said.

The new ordinance is not radically different from the existing one, but it does tighten the tolerances for sidewalks. Seals told the city the biggest issue is “trip hazards,” spots where a difference in height or width between two segments could cause someone to fall.

If one sidewalk segment is higher than an adjacent segment, that’s called a vertical separation. Horizontal separations are when one segment slides so the ends are the same height as a neighboring segment, but the gaps are wider.

In both cases, the new ordinance allows up to a three-quarter inch separation. The city previously allowed as much as an inch. The new tolerances also apply to holes that cause the sidewalk to dip and uplift from things like tree roots. Inspectors can also order replacement if racks and spalling that cause separations of similar size are found.

The city will resume its sidewalk inspection program in April. If an inspector decides the sidewalk needs to be repaired, homeowners have a couple options. They hire a contractor to do the work, or they have the option of using the city’s contractor for the repairs.

Either way, after they receive a notice of deficiencies property owners have 10 days to contact the city’s engineering office about plans to repair the sidewalk. They then have 60 days to get the work done. After that the city can take action to make sure the repairs are done, and assess the bill to the property’s taxes.

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.