Sidewalk proposal shifts responsibility to city

An uneven sidewalk is marked on lower Warren Street in Hudson. Aliya Schneider/Columbia Greene Media

HUDSON — The common council is reconsidering a 2019 resolution that would make sidewalk repairs a city function, with property owners contributing an annual fee.

The proposed law would shift sidewalk maintenance from individual responsibility to a municipal function, city attorney Jeffrey Baker said. An ad hoc committee discussing the proposed law will meet March 16.

Under current law, sidewalks fixed by property owners may not align with their neighbors’ sidewalks, becoming a tripping hazard or Americans with Disabilities Act issue, 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante said.

“Conformity is an issue,” he said.

The city’s sidewalks being in terrible condition shows the current rules aren’t working, Merante said.

Property owners’ responsibility to their sidewalks has not been enforced, 4th Ward Alderman John Rosenthal said. Either the code department has to notice the sidewalk, a complaint has to be filed or someone has to get hurt before action is taken, he added. Having scheduled, phased sidewalk work will be more efficient.

“I think this helps code enforcement,” Rosenthal said. “It helps everyone.”

The fee will differ for residences and businesses, Rosenthal said. The fee will be decided by calculating the linear feet of sidewalk in front of each type of building. Everyone in each category will pay the same rate. Property owners who have done recent sidewalk repairs will be grandfathered in, not having to pay the fee for a period of time. It hasn’t been decided how combined business-residence buildings will be charged, but Rosenthal predicts business classifications will take priority.

“We’re aiming for fairness and equity,” Rosenthal said.

If it’s not working, the fee structure could be revisited, he added.

Outside contractors, not the Department of Public Works, would be hired by the city to do repairs.

The fees will go into a fund dedicated to sidewalk maintenance and repair, Common Council President Thomas DePietro said. Since the funds will be raised through fees, tax-exempt properties will also participate.

The 2019 law draft gives authority to the commissioner of public works to oversee construction, repair and maintenance of all sidewalks in the city. It also grants authority to the commissioner to make and enforce rules and regulations for the removal of ice, snow and other obstructions from sidewalks.

But unlike the code enforcement office, the Department of Public Works is not an enforcement body, Public Works Superintendent Robert Perry said.

The proposed law would amend the city charter, according to Baker and the draft. The resolution draft was written under former mayor Rick Rector and Baker is tasked with rewriting it.

An Americans with Disabilities Act survey regarding Hudson’s sidewalks will be released soon, which can be helpful to determine the schedule for repairing sidewalks in the future, DePietro said.

The ad hoc committee should not determine the schedule of what sidewalks are being repaired, Perry wrote in a statement to the committee.

“This isn’t a political decision; this is determination based on practical understanding and safety,” he wrote.

Perry also questioned the capacity for his department to oversee the project, which is modeled after Ithaca’s sidewalk system.

The city code grants authority to the commissioner of public works to request property owners to repair sidewalks, and for the city to hire a contractor and levy the cost to the owner if it’s not done, Perry said, questioning why the city doesn’t utilize this authority instead of changing the rules.

The ad hoc committee wants to remove common council and committee involvement in the draft, DePietro said. The law would have to be managed by the Department of Public Works commissioner and superintendent.

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative’s Hudson Connects project will include sidewalk repair in part of the city, which could serve as a model for how the rest of the city’s sidewalks are built, DePietro said.

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