Vergennes to delay decision on South Water St. sidewalk

VERGENNES — It now looks like a decision on whether to replace up to 1,000 feet of South Water Street sidewalk will wait until next spring or summer, and in the meantime feedback is running in favor of doing so, according to City Manager Matt Chabot.
At issue is whether to repair or remove the riverside stretch of sidewalk that runs south from the intersection of South Water and Roberts streets to where South Water Street turns sharply left to meet South Maple Street. The sidewalk on the east side of South Water Street is in good condition, officials said. 
Council members have suggested to Chabot the city could save money now and in the future by removing the sidewalk and installing lawn in its place, but on Sept. 11 made it clear that it was his decision.
In saying he would not authorize immediate work, Chabot cited a possible $15,000 project cost that would push the annual public works’ sidewalk budget  — a total of $15,000 — into the red, given work already done. And he said the clock is about to strike midnight for 2018 projects.
“I still feel that no decision or action will be taken this season regardless of my findings due to multiple factors (amongst them, the season is waning quickly and the pipeline is full with existing projects at this time),” Chabot wrote in an email.
That project cost number could drop once Chabot and public works head Jim Larrow get a chance to evaluate the sidealk’s condition, although clearly some areas have deteriorated and a section in front of one home is missing.
Depending on the review, the project could be cheaper.
“I’m not sure everything will need to be replaced,” Chabot said. “There are sections that will have to be.”
Then if the public works budget survives the winter in good shape the project could move to the top of the spring to-do list with funding from the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
“I’m not sure where Jimmy is going to come in on the 2019 budget,” Chabot said. “If we save money on salting and snow removal then it will be a lockdown.”
Council members had asked him to at least consider not replacing the sidewalk to save money. Chabot said he has heard from about a half-dozen residents so far, with the feedback one-sided.
“The key input that I have received to date, and I have not reached out to all of the interested parties on South Water Street, has been overwhelmingly that people feel the sidewalk should be replaced,” he said.
A 2016 city sidewalk inventory also lists a South Water Street fix as a priority.
“It went through and really listed by priority what the conditions our sidewalks were in and where repairs were needed. And that’s a document that Jim Larrow and our DPW are working off,” Chabot said. “It clearly indicates there is need for repair of that sidewalk.”
The public works department removed the one missing stretch of sidewalk from in front of one home in August. According to Sept. 11 city council minutes a council member “told the department to remove a portion of the sidewalk on South Water Street and to replace it with grass seed.”
At that Sept. 11 meeting the council reaffirmed it was the city manager’s role to make the call. Per minutes on the city website, “Mayor Renny Perry advised decisions on paving or sidewalk replacement is the City Manager’s job to take all politics out of the decision making.”
Chabot said one lot-width stretch of sidewalk being missing did not change the overall need for work to or removal of the 1,000-foot length of sidewalk in question.
However, Chabot acknowledged, “Clearly if our normal protocols had been followed this sidewalk removal would not have taken place without further review and conversation.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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