Syracuse councilors question proposed sidewalk program
UPDATE: In a 6-2 vote on Monday, the Syracuse Common Council passed a motion to introduce the sidewalk program onto the agenda. It was tabled and will be put up for a final vote on June 7.
Syracuse common councilors have a lot of questions about a municipal sidewalk program being proposed by the mayor. Under the program, the city would assume the responsibility and repair of sidewalks from property owners. Some councilors questioned if everyone paying a flat fee for the service is fair.
The program would be free for one year, but residential and commercial property owners would pay increasing fees for the sidewalk maintenance that would eventually cap at an annual cost of $100 and $300 respectively, by year six. That’s estimated to raise $4.5 million annually. At a committee meeting last week with officials from the mayor’s administration, Council President Helen Hudson said the fee is minimal at first.
“But I know from being a poor person, that if you had tacked on $20 to me 20 years ago, it would have pushed me over the edge,” Hudson said.
Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey agreed, focusing on seniors with fixed incomes.
“I always say, you never know who is a dollar away from foreclosure,” Bey said.
President Hudson said they need to carve out a hardship fund to help people who can’t afford the fee. The city’s Chief Operating Officer Corey Driscoll Dunham said the administration is open to that. She emphasized that the current system isn’t working either. If the city condemns a sidewalk, a property owner could be hit with a very large bill. In recent years, the average estimate the city has given for a sidewalk replacement has been more than $8,000.
“This would be a predictable fee; you know how much it’s going to be each year,” Dunham said. “There shouldn’t be any surprises.”
Councilors also questioned why some property owners should have to pay if they have no sidewalks. Twenty-percent of the parcels in the city don’t have sidewalks. Three-percent of the funding in the program will go towards constructing new sidewalks. Sidewalks with high pedestrian traffic and the most disrepair will get priority in being repaired first.
Councilor Bey suggested starting the program at the beginning of 2022, to give them some time to work out the details. Dunham has been working to address councilor’s concerns. The program could go up for a vote Monday.