Council eyes $500K sidewalk plan

By Jason Hawk -

An aggressive $500,000 plan to fix broken sidewalks is being considered by Amherst city council.

Calling the condition of walkways a “public safety issue,” the body reacted positively Monday to mayor Mark Costilow’s push to have home and business owners make repairs.

If council approves the plan and its financing, you can expect another round of letters to be sent out soon by certified mail. They’ll urge property owners to either mend sidewalks themselves or hire a contractor.

In July, the city will use the $500,000 pot to pay its own contractor to repair those walks that have not been done — and officials will charge property owners for the service via their tax bills.

“We’re going to pick some of the worst spots first. I think you’re going to be shocked. This money is not going to go far,” Costilow said.

He anticipates the cash set aside by council would pay for repairs at about 20 percent of the properties identified as having safety problems. The mayor sees this as the first foray into a four- or five-year effort to bring walkways up to date.

A similar plan last year didn’t give residents enough time to look into contractor options, Costilow said. This time, he wants to give plenty of advance warning so those affected can do some deal-hunting.

There were also some residents who questioned the assessment of their sidewalks, and Costilow agreed that in some cases inspectors were “a little bit aggressive” about deciding which areas needed repairs. Some of those discussions resulted in removal of addresses from the must-fix list.

“I think we have more pressing public safety issues than a couple of sidewalks that are not perfectly level,” said councilman Joe Miller. “However, there are some sidewalks that are pretty bad and they do need looked at.”

During discussion of the issue, council members recalled an instance in which one pedestrian was hit by a car on a street with no sidewalk near a school. When there is snow on the ground, many students have to walk in the street in places where there are no walks at all.

Costilow said city workers are developing a map of areas without sidewalks. He intends to apply next year for a Safe Routes to School grant through the state that would allow more sidewalks to be poured.

In the meantime, all new residential developments are required to lay sidewalks to gain approval of the Amherst planning commission, he said.

In related business, council is expected to vote soon on the issuance and sale of $3 million worth of bonds.

Of that amount, $500,000 will be used for the city’s sidewalk contractor costs, while $2.5 million will pay for the Lincoln-Sipple storm water interceptor sewer project scheduled for this year in the center of Amherst.

These bonds are loans, and right now interest rates are around two percent. Council members expressed interest in locking down those rates now as investors speculate they’ll soon rise.

Another $1 million bond request is anticipated later this year to finance resurfacing of Cooper Foster Park Road between Rt. 58 and Oberlin Avenue, said Costilow. That work is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk