EDITORIAL: Time for do-over on Schenectady sidewalk plan

No point in throwing good money after bad, especially given city's financial woes
Deteriorating sidewalks on DeCamp Avenue and Union Street in Schenectady Wednesday
Deteriorating sidewalks on DeCamp Avenue and Union Street in Schenectady Wednesday

The great comedian W.C. Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Sometimes, you reach a point where there’s just no point in trying to salvage a failed effort.

And the best way to save further time, money and frustration is to give up, go back to the drawing board and devote your time and effort into coming up with a better plan.

We might be at that point with the city of Schenectady’s beleaguered sidewalk experiment.

Back in January 2019, we were optimistic about the city’s creative way to pay for new sidewalks by allowing residents to set up sidewalk assessment districts and pay for the upgrades over time. It’s worked in other cities.

We thought that if the city could control costs through bidding and economies of scale, explore ways to offset costs to homeowners through grants and casino revenue, and come up with an allowance for financial hardship, they might be able to make something work.

But when the plan was put into practice in Schenectady, it turned out to be a financial and logistical flop.

Early estimates used to generate neighborhood support for the sidewalk districts came in way over budget, and city officials were reluctant to share information with citizens about the unexpected expenses.

Bids for the initial project, for sidewalks along Ardsley Road, came in far higher than anticipated, as city officials didn’t consider factors like tree removal and backfilling of the ground. As a result, the City Council was forced to take money from the city’s capital budget to offset the cost to property owners.

Now we’re on to a project or DeCamp Avenue, which is supposed to be combination sidewalk and road repaving project.

Some city officials are suggesting removing the street work from that project or rebidding the sidewalk portion of it to bring down costs.

Other are suggesting that the costs for sidewalk upgrades be capped and that the city pay for cost overruns.  Some are urging the city to keep moving forward with the sidewalk project, working in fixes to lower costs, such as perhaps trying to renegotiate material costs.

And because money has already been allocated, some city officials believe the city might have to forge ahead whether it wants to or not.

With the mayor talking about slashing the police force due to the city’s dire financial condition, maybe pushing a flawed, expensive, mismanaged, nontransparent sidewalk plan isn’t the best use taxpayers’ money right now.

Yes, the sidewalk repairs are needed. But it’s been clear for quite some time that this isn’t the best way to do them.  

City officials need to quit while they’re behind, regroup, and take the time to come up with a well-thought-out new plan, with firm costs and total transparency. And don’t move forward until they have one.

This project hasn’t been a success.

It’s time for city officials to stop being a damn fool about it. 

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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