OSWEGO, NY – The discussion of who is responsible for sidewalk repair and maintenance continued at Monday night’s Administrative Services Committee meeting.
Assistant City Attorney Tom Reynolds said the city charter authorizes the DPW, pursuant to Section C12-06, to require the owners of property fronting upon any street … “to construct, repair and keep in order sidewalks.”
“The city can, but does not have to have the residents pay for the sidewalk,” he added. “The charter basically leaves it open.”
It is to be noted that pursuant to Section 92 of the Second Class Cities Law, the commissioner of public works is not required to make the abutting property owner responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the sidewalk or the cost thereof, but the commissioner of public works has the authority to do so, the attorney noted.
“The charter needs some clarification. We can’t charge someone in the Second Ward and not charge someone in the Third Ward to repair their sidewalk,” Councilor Mike Todd said. “You can’t have that ambiguity. You have to be consistent.”
If a resident somehow damages the sidewalk, then they should be charged in that instance, Councilor Shawn Walker said.
Councilor Pat McLaughlin asked if it would be possible to use CHIPS (he New York State Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program account) funding to do the work or maybe hire someone to do it for the city.
Councilor Fran Enwright said he was concerned about who would be liable if someone were injured on a defective sidewalk.
“If one day someone reports it and the next day someone trips on it, are liable?” he asked.
Issues regarding potential lawsuits should be discussed in executive session, Reynolds noted.
Because of the lack of manpower, the city isn’t getting sidewalks repaired as quickly as it used to, Enwright said.
The charter further allows a commissioner of public works to install or repair sidewalks if owners of property fail to repair sidewalks. “… and the cost shall be assessed and collected in the same manner as other local assessments. The DPW is further authorized to require sidewalks to be kept in a safe and passable condition free from any obstructions including ice and snow. The failure of owners of property to comply after appropriate notice shall subject them to local assessment charges for any work done by the DPW to keep the sidewalks open, safe and passable.”
This section C12-06 of the charter however does not prohibit the city constructing or renewing sidewalks. This same section states, “The city may, at its own expense, implement a plan of sidewalk construction and renewal.”
Therefore, in light of the foregoing, although the charter allows the DPW to cause the cost of the sidewalk repair and maintenance to be assessed against property owners “in the same manner as other local assessments,” the city may repair sidewalks without passing the costs of this assessment along to the property owner.
“The charter gives direction to what the council can do,” Reynolds told the committee. “It’s up to the council to decide.”
“I think we need to, with our limited resources, be very selective about where we prioritize and apply those funds as it relates to repairs,” Councilor Ron Kaplewicz said. “Resources should be spent on the worst problems that we know about right now.”
One resident said the sidewalks are the city’s responsibility “because that’s what we pay taxes for.”
Charging a resident would be like placing another tax on that individual, he continued.
“You’re assessing a fee on something that you have a responsibility to repair,” he told the committee.
Councilor Todd suggested the city look into amending the charter.
“My recommendation would be we have policy established stating that we take on the responsibility. We establish a policy so we can start fixing sidewalks,” he said.
“Not everybody’s going to be happy with it,” Reynolds noted. “Not everybody is happy with the charter.”
Council President Eric VanBuren invited the fellow councilors to submit their concerns and recommendations to him.
“I’ll sit down with the city attorney and draft out a formal policy and resolution,” he said.
Then he would bring it back to the floor of the committee for further discussion and council consideration.