SCHENECTADY — The clock is ticking for homeowners who want to participate in the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.
Neighborhoods have just more than five weeks to submit applications to be included in the first round of construction.
“I’m hoping to have all of the petitions into the [city] clerk by May 1,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said Tuesday.
The City Council last week approved the pilot program, which allows neighborhoods to form special assessment districts to repair sidewalks if 75 percent of homeowners on each block approve.
Lawmakers must approve all applications. If each moves swiftly through the legislative process, projects can go out to bid by late May at the earliest.
“We have to get all these sidewalks in by October,” Wallin said.
Council members who approved the program said a sidewalk fix has been long-needed.
But the program remains controversial with residents continuing to seek clarity on multiple aspects, including the timeline, finances, construction methods, communication channels and coordination with the city’s summertime paving schedule.
Representatives from nearly all of the city’s neighborhood associations peppered Wallin and City Councilman John Polimeni with questions at a Schenectady United Neighborhoods-sponsored event at Emmanuel-Friedens Church on Tuesday.
Homeowners on each side of the street must file petitions in order for projects to be approved — not just one side.
The city will foot the bill for the portion of sidewalk on foreclosed properties and add the cost to the eventual sale price.
“The lien would go on that property we’d be foreclosing on,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. “That would be paid by the new homeowner.”
DeCamp Avenue resident David Bacheldor said it may be difficult to enlist support from 75 percent of property owners on any given street.
“I find it hard to find neighborhoods putting together that type of coordination,” he said.
Polimeni acknowledged the percentage was high, but said it would reveal a clear mandate.
City code requires property owners to maintain their sidewalks, but many fail to have them repaired.
Several attendees wondered about the consequences for those who allow their sidewalks to deteriorate.
Wallin said the city is required to investigate written complaints.
“We try to enforce the best we can,” he said.
Some residents noted previous roadwork projects resulted in compromised soil that later rejected trees planted as part of urban forestry campaigns.
“We’ll make a note of it,” Wallin said.
The City Council included $1 million in this year’s capital budget for the program, an amount Kosiur estimated would cover between eight and 10 city blocks.
Early cost estimates provided by the city range from $2,700 to $2,959 per 50 feet of sidewalk, with numbers fluctuating depending on interest rates and the payback period.
Polimeni recommended a 15-year plan.
“It’s typically much more affordable than you would get as a one-off individual,” he said.
Bacheldor called for officials to convey more detailed information.
“You have to put facts and details in our hands if you expect us to go forward with this,” he said.
Officials said they would attempt to quickly add a section to the city’s website about frequently asked questions concerning the program.
Officials reiterated that the program is a work in progress and wrinkles will be worked out on the two projects previously approved by homeowners: Raymond Street and one block of McClellan Street between The Plaza and Rugby Road.
Wallin said he was mindful of resident concerns, noting it’s rare for the city to undertake projects with individual property owners as stakeholders.
“This isn’t terribly complicated in terms of logistics,” he quipped. “The issue is that this project is most likely going to age me 30 years.”
The city engineer also briefed attendees on the city’s summertime paving schedule.
“You are going to see the paving program come out soon,” he said.
While the exact list of projects continues to come into focus, federally funded paving projects on Broadway and Guilderland Avenue are scheduled to begin in April, he said.
Wallin acknowledged there was some ambiguity in how the city previously determined its paving schedule before he got the job in 2012.
DeCamp Avenue resident Bette Salisbury pointed at the disparity between streets in her neighborhood.
“I think it’s the inequity [homeowners] see that something has gone awry somewhere," Salisbury said.
Wallin acknowledged streets like Wright Avenue “hit the lottery” with newly paved surfaces and sidewalks while streets like DeCamp haven't been as well-maintained.
"This [sidewalk] program I’m hoping will give people another tool so it doesn’t feel like the lottery again,” Wallin said.
As the city moves forward with the program, Councilman Vince Riggi floated the idea of letting voters decide if they’d like to take funds from the city's Smart Cities program and use them for sidewalk repair.
The city has set aside approximately $5 million in its capital budgets over the past three years for the Smart Cities program, which includes outfitting streetlights with LED lights.
“Let’s call for a public hearing,” Riggi said during an interview on Wednesday. “Would you rather see cameras, LED lights or safe, smooth streets?”
Riggi said he was waiting for an opinion from City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to determine if it is legal to relocate money bonded for one project to another. Falotico is researching the issue before the next council committee meeting scheduled for April 1.
Riggi, who voted against the sidewalk plan earlier this month, said he’s not trying to cast doubt on the new program, but rather, give people another option.
“I’m not trying to submarine the special district,” Riggi said. “People seem to be crying for a way to coordinate this all together.”