The Medford City Council did the right thing last week when members voted not to collect on deferred improvement agreements along Howard Avenue. During the Thursday night meeting, Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said the city no longer offers such agreements, and that, too, is a good thing.

The Medford City Council did the right thing last week when members voted not to collect on deferred improvement agreements along Howard Avenue. During the Thursday night meeting, Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said the city no longer offers such agreements, and that, too, is a good thing.

The agreements, entered into over the past 20 years, allow property owners to put off bringing their properties' frontage up to city standards by agreeing to pay their share of the cost when the work is performed. That might be acceptable if accurate records were kept and subsequent purchasers of the property were told about the obligation they were about to take on.

That apparently did not happen in several cases. One homeowner told the council that he faced a bill for more than $21,000 for street and sidewalk improvements. Not only was he not told of the agreement when he bought his house, but his title company could find no record of it. Another owner was presented with a bill for more than $18,000.

The work on Howard Avenue will be paid for with the proceeds of a bond measure voters approved in 2004 to build sidewalks around 12 elementary schools. The Howard work is scheduled to be performed this year.

Street and sidewalk improvements do benefit the owners of property on the street being improved. But in this case, anyone in the neighborhood with children who walk to school benefits, too.

For that matter, all city residents have an interest in making sure the community's children can safely walk to school. That's why voters approved the bond measure, and why it's reasonable for everyone to share in the cost.

To go to individual property owners now and demand payment of obligations they did not agree to, did not know about and cannot afford would be unreasonable, and council members recognized that.

One member voiced concern that the city would be unable to collect any other DIAs as a result of the Howard Avenue decision. That's a valid concern, but it's hard to see that the city has much choice.

Few Medford homeowners could afford to write a check for $18,000 or $21,000 if they were presented with a bill today, especially if they were unaware that they were liable for such an expense.

We understand that voiding these agreements and others like them will cost the city some money. But the system is so flawed that the only fair way to deal with the situation now is to waive the payments.

Crebbin said last week that he doesn't know how many other DIAs may exist. The city should track down any remaining agreements and move to void them as well.