Brace for sidewalk repair orders from city hall

By Jason Hawk -

Are the sidewalks in front of your home cracked or upheaved?

If so, you might soon by on the hook for a big repair bill.

Amherst city council passed a “resolution of necessity” on Monday calling for extensive sidewalk fixes to be made citywide.

It directs safety-service director John Jeffreys to comb neighborhoods, identify problem areas, and develop a plan for rehabilitating broken and crumbling sidewalks.

That means at some point you could get a letter from council clerk Linda Turley requiring you to pay for repairs.

And if you don’t make them, the city will send workers to do so and bill you for the cost.

Right now, it’s unclear how many home and business owners could get such letters or how wide-sweeping officials will make the effort.

Mayor Mark Costilow told the News-Times he knows some people have 100 feet of frontage with sidewalk that needs replaced — and that could be a very expensive proposition.

He said the city wants to focus on repairing full stretches of walkways, not just isolated spots. A survey last year showed Amherst’s third ward, which encompasses most the northeastern quadrant of the city, has some of the worst issues.

Costilow said he and Jeffreys are most concerned about areas surrounding schools, the historical downtown shopping district, and parks, all of which have heavier foot traffic.

“This is just the first step,” said third ward councilman Chuck Winiarski, who has long asked for sidewalk problems to be addressed.

After passage of the resolution, he said he understands the plan will add to the workload of the auditor’s office, council clerk, law director, and safety-service director — and he offered to roll up his sleeves and help them.

Specifically, he offered to help Turley stuff envelopes en route to affected property owners and handle angry or concerns phone calls to her office.

But for Costilow, those logistics aren’t the biggest issue in moving forward with sidewalk repairs.

He said the largest obstacle will be financing, and called on auditor David Kukucka and treasurer Richard Ramsey for help.

“There really, truly is nowhere in the budget that we’re going to have the amount of money I think this is going to take,” he said, later adding, “The money’s not here.”

One idea is to issue a bond to pay for the city’s share of the sidewalk expenses.

Kukucka has already reached out to the city’s bond counsel and said the amount of money needed — under $500,000 — makes that idea cost-prohibitive.

However, he said there may be an alternative funding method Amherst can seek that is less arduous than bonding, and promised to brief council.

Last March, council set aside a paltry $40,000 it a sidewalk repair pilot program. That may sound like a lot of cash, but it didn’t stretch far.

Of particular concern were sandstone slabs that are more than 70 years old and in various stages of deterioration. They are a fading breed because since 1947 all sidewalks have been required to be made of concrete.

Under state law, sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners, not the city. Municipalities can set rules for how they must be installed and maintained but the bill is in your hands.

In other council business, a long-in-the-wings deal to widen Kresge Drive received final approval.

Officials voted unanimously to fast-track a vote to share the estimated $130,000 cost with developer Victor Nardini, who is building a new phase of Century Plaza on the busy commercial street.

The Willow Creek bridge will remain two lanes, but the rest of the stretch from Rt. 58 to the new three-business center will be three lanes.

The city will fund the entire project up-front. When it nears completion, he’ll be billed for $65,000.

Amherst city council will convene again at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 6 at city hall.

On the agenda are authorization of bidding and awarding for tree trimming maintenance and approval of a subdivider’s agreement for the Preserve at Quarry Lakes off North Main Street.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk