Sidewalk upheaval: Council caught off guard

An announcement this week by the city administration that it was going to start inspecting residential sidewalks has caused an uproar because of the potential budget-busting costs involved.

Sidewalks, whether repaired or replaced, may cost several thousand dollars, according to experts in the field.

“It can cost several thousand dollars,” a contractor in South Williamsport with L&K Concrete said following the announcement by Joseph Gerardi, codes administrator, during a Tuesday meeting of council’s public works committee.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana on Thursday told the Sun-Gazette that Gerardi’s announcement came with the mayor’s authorization.

“He (Gerardi) would not have moved forward without my approval,” Campana said, clarifying: “We’re only looking for the worst of the worst, not chipped or dented sidewalks.”

Financial assistance may be made available through the city community development office, he said.

The sudden notice of the inspections and the intention to issue notices when codes officers find certain conditions caught some on council off-guard.

“I had no idea,” said Council Vice-President Randall J. Allison when asked if he had been made aware before the announcement.

Council President Jonathan Williamson said he was equally in the dark.

“The timing isn’t right,” Allison said. It is closing in on Christmas, then tax-preparation season and a tough time for those dealing with payments for heating costs, he said.

“We need to be fair and equitable to everyone,” he said of those who have the misfortune of living along older or cracked sidewalks that might be targeted for repair or replacement.

Also, the city has no ordinance requiring sidewalks in front of residences, Allison said.

Gerardi said the city’s program would be similar to one in Loyalsock Township, where a four-year program to repair and replace bad sidewalks is ending this year.

The program was meant to reduce the number of calls about falls, emergency responses and liability insurance claims, according to Bill Burdett, township manager.

Burdett said he understands the backlash but said people replace their roof every 20 years, but sidewalks go unnoticed until someone slips and falls.

The township held a town hall at the firehouse where people were given a list of concrete contractors.

Gerardi, who used to work for the township, said such a program here could further contribute to the look and function of city neighborhoods, many of which have improved with the elimination of blight.

“We have been pretty successful in removing property blight,” he said. “This is the next phase.”