By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER
The Bristol Joint Board met to discuss the Connecticut Development Block Grant and the Bristol Development Authority last week. And sidewalks was a topic that generated considerable discussion.
Of the seven items on the consent calendar for the panel, one item was pulled and the discussion lasted much of the meeting; the transfer of $50,000 within the CDBG fund for the sidewalk replacement program.
Although it was approved unanimously in the Board of Finance, BOF Chair Cheryl Thibeault, said she would “like to have a dialogue and I think it would be wise because the charter does say that taxpayers, home owners and residents are responsible for the sidewalks in front of their homes.”
Chapter 21, Division 1, Section 21-23 of the charter states; “Every owner or occupant of land adjoining any street or part of a street adjacent to whose land there is a paved sidewalk, and sidewalks with wheelchair ramps, shall clear such sidewalks, and sidewalks with wheelchair ramps, or snow… after a storm… and whenever ice shall form on such sidewalk, and sidewalks with wheelchair ramps, shall either remove the same… or cover it with salt and sand, so that it shall be safe for travel.”
Thibeault, while understanding of the program, said that she had an issue with how landlords fall under the charter, as they technically own the land, and thus would be responsible for the sidewalk maintenance.
Thibeault asked Justin Malley, the executive director of the BDA, to discuss how the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the BDA may work to resolve these issues.
“Essentially,” said Malley. “Through our CDBG program, we’ve identified and HUD has approved two target areas for directed CDBG investments.” He explained those funds are directed towards helping low to moderate income homes in the city in a number of ways. For example, the Housing Rehab program, through assisting social service agencies or targeting neighborhoods for investments.
Malley reported CDBG funds have dwindled year after year and the board looks at what they can afford and how they can best help with limited funds. “They [the board] have considered sidewalk funds a good investment because it generally helps the entire neighborhood.”
Mary Fortier, City Council member, added the charter does include “absentee landlords” as being responsible for sidewalk maintenance, and that there are programs through the City Works Department that will help to cover a portion of the cost to aid in the homeowner’s sidewalk repairs. “I don’t think the charter precludes, from anywhere, helping someone with their sidewalks just because, legally, the owners are responsible for the sidewalks,” said Fortier.