Councilwoman on city sidewalks: ‘It’s life and death for some of our residents’

Posted at 10:45 PM, Mar 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-28 23:31:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Some Richmond residents and business owners are calling on the city to repair deteriorating sidewalks before another person gets seriously injured.

Jimmy Koontz says every time he steps outside his Richmond automotive business, he’s reminded of his customers who haven’t made it inside without injuring themselves.

“I think of someone falling and hurting themselves,” said Koontz Automotive owner Jimmy Koontz. “Great big knot in his head, bruised knees, bruised elbows sprains. It’s just ridiculous.”

Injuries, he says are the result of substandard city sidewalks that surround his North Sheppard Street shop.

Surveillance video captured one of his regulars tripping on crooked concrete. The February fall was the sixth he says in a matter of months.

“I have a lot of repeat customers and so we care... It’s bad when they can’t get in your business because they are tripping over your sidewalk,” said Koontz.  “Enough is enough.”

Sidewalk in front of Koontz Automotive

Less then a mile away, Alexander Morgan showed CBS 6 reporter Laura French the scar on his ankle from the tumble he took outside his West Grace street home.

But, it’s the fall his late friend took that brings him to tears.

“His hip, his leg was broken and his spinal cord and then later he died,” said fall victim Alexander Morgan.

Morgan said his friend Gus never recovered from the injuries that he says resulted from his fall. He wants that sidewalk repaired, and he’s not alone.

“We have major concerns about the impassibility of these sidewalks,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Kim Gray. “It’s life and death for some of our residents. We got to take it more seriously and start getting these repairs done. Throughout the city there are thousands of sidewalk requests,” Gray added.

West Grace Street sidewalk

Richmond City Councilwoman Kim Gray co-sponsored a resolution that added $750,000 to the city’s sidewalk maintenance budget but she says that just scratches the surface.

“We’ve had major claims against the city for injuries on the sidewalks. We paid out more in claims then we actually had in the maintenance budget," Gray said. "So, this is a major concern. It’s something that impacts all of us in the city. We got to figure out a way to address them because we can’t continue to pay out claims, that’s not the way we should be doing business.”

The Richmond Department of Public Works says only $200,000 of the $149,890,000 capital improvement projects’ budget was set aside this year for sidewalk repairs.

According to the DPW website, sidewalk repairs, replacements and installations are done by two DPW divisions, Roadway Maintenance and Capital Projects Management. When the project area is smaller than a half block (or 1800 square feet) roadway takes care of it. When it is larger, it becomes a capital project.

Richmond City Councilwoman Kim Gray

“It’s all in how the administration prioritizes it so it's very frustrating from a city council standpoint,” said Gray. “I still don’t have answers. I’ve been asking for the sidewalk inventory for several months.”

CBS 6 was able to obtain a copy of the most recent sidewalk inventory. As of December 2017, 217 projects are listed on the sidewalk capital improvement master list.

Sidewalks with a rating of 20 or higher on a point scale of 40 are prioritized. 51 sidewalks have a rating of 20 or higher in Richmond.

DPW says ratings are based on a point system that involves the type of sidewalk damage, location, type of street, transit stop/route, school zone, church, community facility, pedestrian generator and housing density.

Sidewalks on West Grace Street are ranked 17.75 and lower and don’t make the list of top priorities for consideration of capital improvement funds.

Meanwhile, Koontz says he's spent more than a decade trying to make the sidewalks around his business safe.

“When you call the city we just get the runaround,” said Koontz.

“Not being able to get in and out of your door in a safe manner on a daily basis is serious,” said Gray.

CBS 6 has learned that there are currently 47 claims against the city.

Below is a recent inventory of City sidewalks where individuals have been injured and filed claims against the City. Some have filed lawsuits, and some are in the process of preparing to file lawsuits.

The highest payout listed was 105,000.00.

With the help of Gray, the sidewalk directly in front of Koontz Automotive business is now in the system as a potential future capital project, but Koontz says the last sidewalk he complained about took eight years to repair.

“I’d like to see where the tax money goes,” said Koontz. “I’d like for it to be more public. I’d really like to see some action when you get a work order that’s eight years old. That’s ridiculous.”

Koontz said it’s especially frustrating when other projects in the city he says get expedited.

“When the city can fix the sidewalks for the new Redskins Camp and they can fix the sidewalks for the bicycle race,” said Koontz. “Their sidewalks are pristine, yet the businesses that pay the taxes to keep the city going... we can’t get anything done. I feel that we as business owners, we pay our taxes, we have to pay them up front or they’ll close us down, but can’t get a response on something as simple as fixing our sidewalk,” Koontz added.

“In city taxes alone, not including state, last year we paid right at $40,000 or $50,000 between business license, water runoff tax and it’s very frustrating,” Koontz said. “How would you feel if you spent $40,000 on a car and nobody would fix it for ya? It’s very frustrating.”

Jimmy Koontz

Koontz wants a more concrete plan to address the thousands of sidewalk complaints.

“Maybe we need to total overhaul city government because it’s just ridiculous,” said Koontz.

“I’d like to see this as a priority for our city and really work to address these issues and come together with a solution on how we’re going to pay for it and move forward with the repairs,” said Gray.

The next sidewalk master list will come out at the end of June.

The City of Richmond is responsible for 836 miles of sidewalks.

You can report a damaged sidewalk by calling 311 on your mobile phone of 804-646-7000. A request for service can also be made online with RVA One.

CBS 6 News is working for you. Click here to email a tip to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers. Be sure to leave us your name, phone number and detailed description of the problem. You can also leave a message by calling 804-254-3672.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers are Working For You.

Contact the CBS 6 Problem Solvers

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.