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Editorial: Sidewalk plan worth exploring

Editorial: Sidewalk plan worth exploring

A walkable city needs safe sidewalks and a way to pay for them.

If you’ve tripped or stumbled down a sidewalk that looks like a casualty of a San Francisco earthquake, or if you’ve been forced to push a stroller or a walker or wheelchair in the street alongside traffic because the sidewalk in front of someone’s home was impassible, then you’ll have some idea why Schenectady city officials are anxious to explore new ways to fund sidewalk repairs.

City officials are undertaking a challenge to come up with a funding and repair plan for the city’s 200 miles of sidewalks that will be acceptable to residents already stressed to the max by high taxes.

City officials have proposed creating neighborhood sidewalk assessment districts to pay for repairs. Voters in each neighborhood would have approve the creation of the districts in a public vote with a super-majority needed to pass it.

That approach is similar to one being explored or employed in other cities.

The city of Ithaca in 2013 created a task force to study a sidewalk repair program for its 90 miles of sidewalks after 20 years of unsuccessfully trying to persuade and force property owners to fix sidewalks.

Instead of dividing up the city by neighborhood, Ithaca created five districts. All lots in the districts, including tax-exempt properties, are assessed at a set dollar figure based on a formula related to the size and use of the property, plus fees based on square footage of the buildings and sidewalk frontage. 

The money raised goes into a fund from which sidewalk repair expenses are taken through the annual budget process.

Syracuse officials last year considered a similar program modeled after Ithaca’s.

Schenectady officials will have to consider a number of factors before enacting the program, primarily focused on the cost impact to residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes and can’t afford yet another tax increase.

One councilman estimated a high-end cost of $3,000 for a 50-foot section of sidewalk. That’s $60 per linear foot. Certainly, the city could get that figure much lower through bidding and economies of scale.

City officials also should explore ways to offset the cost to homeowners through grants, installment payments (as has been proposed) and using more casino tax revenue. There also should be some kind of allowance for financial hardship.

A walkable city needs good sidewalks.

City officials need to further investigate this idea and then listen to residents about what they want, what they’d be willing to pay for and how much they’d be willing to pay.

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