SCHENECTADY -- A sidewalk improvement program, proposed during Monday’s City Council committee meetings, would require residents to pay for upgrades.
City Councilman John Polimeni introduced what he referred to as a "pilot program" that would demonstrate how the concept could work before trying to repair all 200 miles of city sidewalks.
The program would not work without the support of a majority of residents who live in neighborhoods where sidewalk work is needed.
“This is a neighborhood initiative,” Polimeni said. “We’re not forcing anybody.”
City Code dictates that property owners are required to maintain their sidewalks. Polimeni said many residents fail to have their sidewalks repaired because of the cost or because they aren't aware it is their responsibility to do so.
He said the proposed program would create special assessment districts in the city, as long as 75 percent of the residents living in each district agree to have the city work with contractors, fronting the cost of sidewalk repairs.
Those residents would then have the option to repay the cost of the improvements in full, or in payments that would be added to their tax bills over a yet-to-be-determined pay period.
Residents whose sidewalks are up to code, though, would be exempt from the program, Polimeni said.
Each assessment district would have to encompass a minimum area of one city block, according to the proposed program.
Polimeni said the city would be responsible for repairing sidewalks for residences it has taken ownership of, through foreclosure or other programs. But the cost of those repairs would be passed on to anyone who purchases those properties from the city.
The same rule would apply to any resident of a special assessment district who sells their home to a new owner.
The proposal prompted several questions from council members during Monday's meeting.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield asked about the impact on those who own several rental properties.
“If I’m a property owner, I’m probably going to try and recover the cost through renters,” Porterfield said during the meeting. “Have we seen how [the proposed program] will impact renters?”
Polimeni said in an interview with The Daily Gazette that it would be the same if a landlord made any improvement to their property.
“Granted, I don’t want the rent going up for anybody, but it’s the same for any improvement,” Polimeni said.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she was concerned about some of the city's more senior residents having to absorb another cost. She also said she wants to see the percentage of property owners who agree to sign onto the program to be more like 80 to 85 percent.
City Council President Ed Kosiur said council members were only discussing the program, not voting on anything. He said it’s an issue that requires more homework.
Councilman John Mootooveren suggested neighborhood association presidents be responsible for going around and collecting signatures for petitions, a process with which most council members agreed.
Pat Smith, president of the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association, said she thinks the program would be good for homeowners, if it saves them money over time. She said there are some residents in her neighborhood who live on fixed incomes and would not be able to afford repairs up front.
“It’s one way to get something you need repaired without putting you in immediate major debt or panic about where the money would come from,” Smith said. “I’m glad the city is trying to come up with something to help homeowners.”
The idea of the program did not sit as well with East Front Street Neighborhood Association President Carmella Ruscitto. She said she already saw her taxes go up and would not be able to afford another tax.
“Until I know further information, I would say no to giving money for sidewalk repairs,” Ruscitto said.
The idea of doing this type of program has been discussed for some time among council members. It got its initial push following the passage of the budget for 2019, when council members agreed to include $1 million in the capital budget for the pilot program.
There were a couple of streets that had signed on to participate in a similar type of program more than two years ago, Polimeni said.
Approximately 90 percent of the residents on both Raymond and McClellan streets signed petitions to have the city repair their sidewalks, Polimeni said. But it was something that was never acted upon.
Carol Ellis, a resident of McClellan Street, said she recalled her and her husband signing that petition. She said they would not be able to pay for the repairs all at once and said it would be easier to pay over time.
“It’s an easier fix for me,” Ellis said.
For Chris O’Connor, who also lives on McClellan, it’s money she said she and her husband do not have to spend. If anything, she thinks the city should be paying for the repairs.
“We’re already assessed a lot of money,” O’Connor said. “It’s something the city should take up.”
Polimeni said sidewalks in the city are in poor shape. He said that, while he understands the repairs would bring an added cost to residents, it is something that needs to be done.
Since the city would be looking to have the improvements done in bulk, Polimeni said it would actually be cheaper for residents to have their sidewalks repaired through the program rather than doing it on their own.
City officials went out and got quotes from different contractors for what it would cost, on average, for residents to improve sidewalks on their own. Using figures based on the higher end of the estimates, Polimeni said it could cost $3,055.80 to repair 50 feet of sidewalk.
If a resident were to join with other neighbors on a block, it would cost, on average, $2,222.40. That’s a figure that could be paid off over a time period that would be decided by the council, with a 4 percent interest rate, according to the proposed program.
Pay periods that would be considered by the council are five years, which would equal $40.93 per month (per 50-foot section of sidewalk); 7 years, which would equal to $30.38 per month; or 10 years, which would equal $22.50 per month.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi asked whether the city do credit checks to make sure residents would even be able to pay for the repairs.
Polimeni said he wasn’t sure, but it’s something he would look into.
Further discussion of the program was adjourned until the council’s meeting on Jan. 21.