Schenectady hits speed bump with sidewalk program

Residents rankled over higher-than-expected bills; councilman calls the high bills a mistake
Sidewalks at the corner of Ardsley and Rugby roads in Schenectady are pictured on Thursday.
Sidewalks at the corner of Ardsley and Rugby roads in Schenectady are pictured on Thursday.

SCHENECTADY — Residents participating in a city-run pilot program to replace their sidewalks are upset over bills that are double their original cost estimates. 

Ardsley Road resident Rosaline Horowitz said initial estimates presented by the city came in at $2,700 for a 50-foot stretch of sidewalk, or $22.50 per month. 

But she received major sticker shock when she was informed costs had skyrocketed to $5,051. 

Particularly biting, Horowitz said, is the fact that she and her neighbor Carol Merrill-Mazurek used the lower cost estimates to drum up support among her neighbors for the program. 

“The only way it was successful was because of the cost,” Horowitz said. “Otherwise we would not have agreed to it.”

Merrill-Mazurek, too, was presented with a higher bill.

“We have lots of elderly and young people who wouldn’t have signed off because of the cost,” she said. “It was somewhat frustrating.” 

The sidewalk replacement program approved by the City Council last March allows neighborhoods to form special-assessment districts to repair their sidewalks, but only if 75 percent of property owners sign petitions supporting the effort. 

Horowitz also faulted the city for a lack of transparency. 

Between the time she submitted the petitions in May and when engineers appeared on the street in September, the city was silent. 

“There was no communication and no transparency at all,” she said.

City officials initially floated estimates of $3,000 for every 50 feet at the higher end, and said residents would benefit from the city’s ability to negotiate cheaper prices on their behalf. 

Horowitz fired off an email to the program’s architect, Councilman John Polimeni, asking for an explanation.

Polimeni said the final costs depended on the exact bids and that prices were always subject to fluctuate, but he acknowledged the bills were excessive. 

“The bill they received is incorrect,” Polimeni said. “They’re going to be getting new bills.”

Polimeni attributed the higher-than-expected costs to restorative landscape work. 

“That shouldn’t have been passed on to residents and it accidentally was,” he said.

Ten trees were removed on Ardsley Road, according to the city Engineering Department. 

Despite the speed bump, Polimeni defended the program, noting costs are still cheaper than if private contractors conducted the work.

Final costs included in the legislation were $81.70 per square yard with 2 percent annual interest, Polimeni said. 

Horowitz said the revised costs are still too high.

“I’m not satisfied with the resolution as it stands,” she said. “The number that is quoted is not the original number we were looking at.”

City resident David Giacalone said city officials muddied the waters by switching back and forth between square feet and square yards and linear feet or yards. 

The contractor’s bid for Ardsley Road approved by lawmakers uses feet, Giacalone said, while the sample amount used by Polimeni in his estimate utilizes yards. 

“It is confusing and misleading,” Giacalone said. 

The measure was hotly debated last spring as lawmakers hashed out the legislation. Skeptical residents peppered officials with questions over maintenance issues, tree removal and relationship to the city’s paving schedule.

At least one other street submitted enough signatures for new sidewalks: DeCamp Avenue, which submitted petitions last spring.

Polimeni acknowledged he was concerned that the flap may dissuade others from participating.

“There’s a learning curve that city staff are going through,” Polimeni said. “We’ll get it figured out and hopefully people will take advantage of this program.”

Beverly Skoll walked her dog on Ardsley Road on Thursday.

She lives on nearby Waverly Place, where she said the sidewalks are in “terrible” condition. 

A price tag of $2,700 spread over 15 years would equate to $180 annually.

Skoll said she would “absolutely” support the program with that cost. 

“It’s worth it to have your neighborhood looking nice,” she said.

Merrill-Mazurek stressed that the sidewalks look great.

“They did a wonderful job,” she said. “I personally appreciate the effort the city made. We have a beautiful street, and the sidewalks just add to the character.” 

Bob Fopeano echoed that sentiment, noting the former sidewalk, uprooted and twisted by trees, was almost impossible to navigate with a snowblower. 

“I dreaded winter,” he said. “It was just a mess.” 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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