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Syracuse passes municipal sidewalk program: ‘This is a matter of equity’

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
A sidewalk on Syracuse's Near West Side will be one of the first to get repaired.

The city of Syracuse now has a new municipal sidewalk program, where the city assumes responsibility and repair of all sidewalks, instead of property owners. The measure passed the Common Council in a 7-2 vote. Some councilors voiced their concerns with the program.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh called it a historic day.

“For years we have been talking about doing something with our sidewalk program, which literally and figuratively has been broken as long as we can remember,” Walsh said.

He thanked the Council for approving the program and said it sends a strong message that sidewalks are a critical piece of infrastructure.

“Far too many of our sidewalks in this city are broken, overgrown and crumbling,” he said. “That poses an issue for walkers, for people that are in wheelchairs. So, this is a matter of equity.”

The $4.5 million program is free for property owners in the first year. But fees will be phased in, capping out at year six, when residential property owners will pay $100 annually, and commercial property owners will pay $300.  

Councilors that spoke before the vote fell into three camps. Councilors Chol Majok and Joe Carni voted against the program saying they worried about the city now being liable for sidewalks. Carni said the city will get sued.

“I don’t believe that we can take something new on like this and do the best possible job for our constituents and do it in a timely manner that we won’t be sued, that we will not add to the burdensome lawsuits and settlements that we have in our city,” Carni said.

Councilors-at-Large Michael Greene and Ronnie White Jr. spoke in favor of the program. Greene said 25% of Syracuse residents don’t have a car and this program is a need, not a want.

Councilor-at Large Khalid Bey and Councilor Pat Hogan voted yes but voiced their concerns with how the mayor’s administration will administer the program. Bey said they can amend the law if need be. His support came after the administration added in language that says funding could be made available for needy homeowners who can’t afford the annual fee.

Mayor Walsh said they’re setting aside $500,000 to support people who have had their sidewalks condemned, made recent improvements, and can’t afford the fee. He expects sidewalk repairs will begin next month.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.