DELMAR — Be careful the next time someone in town tells you to take a hike.
According to a recent Bethlehem Highway Department survey, about 25 percent of the town’s 43 miles of sidewalks are deficient. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee has asked for the town board to pay more attention.
The committee is suggesting the town budgets $100,000 a year towards sidewalk repairs, plus another $2.85 million to install new sidewalks.
The committee cites a visual survey from 2014. Since then, the committee had provided a long-term solution to maintain the town’s walkways, including a “Top Ten” list of sidewalks in need of repair. But, the committee said, even had there been earnest plans to follow through with past suggestions, it’d be “impossible” with the turnaround at the highway superintendent position.
“The Highway Superintendent has independent powers to decide if money will be allocated to maintaining sidewalks and which sidewalks to improve. Complicating the problem is that we have had four different Highway Superintendents in the past four years which make developing a long-term solution impossible,” the committee stated. “So we turn to the Town Board for help in developing and implementing a long-range sidewalk maintenance program.”
The town’s proposed 2021 budget does not account for sidewalk maintenance. Virus-related shutdowns put a clamp on sales tax revenue, leading the town to freeze salaries and pull $1 million from its reserve fund. The town’s capital plan suggests setting aside $50,000 a year starting in 2022 to restore sidewalks. Based on the committee’s breakdown, that’s not enough.
An annual budget of $50,000 will afford repairs to two-tenths of a mile of sidewalk. The committee sees the need for 10.7 miles each year. Factoring inflation, the report estimates it will take 11 years to adequately repair sidewalks with an annual budget of $100,000, seven years at $150,000 per annum. But, $50,000 “we will never fix all sidewalks,” the committee stated.
That would require the highway department to devote 15 percent of its combined funds from the capital budget and state grants, or $106,500 next year. Or, the committee suggests the town seek alternative means including Parkland Set Aside funds, private and public partnerships, and contributions from developers.
“Specifically our concern relates to the lack of an established and consistent sidewalk maintenance program which would bring the existing sidewalk system into a state of good repair,” committee members stated in its report. “The town has taken the initiative to bring the water, sewer, highway and other infrastructure into a state of good repair, but not sidewalks.”