Walking along Madison Street on a recent afternoon, Cortland residents Ron Irish and his father-in-law Thomas Fritz, sometimes had to walk in the street to avoid bumpy, uneven sidewalks.
Irish and Fritz are used to this maneuvering, although at 87-years-old, the path can prove especially treacherous for Fritz. The pair regularly walk about a three-quarter-mile loop around their neighborhood, and along the way the duo always encounter troublesome areas.
A couple of years ago, the deterioration of the sidewalks prompted Fritz to take an inventory of all the problem areas in Ward 2, and send the inventory to his alderman.
In Cortland, it is the homeowners' responsibility to maintain and repair their sidewalks. Fritz and Irish urged the city to consider taking responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, although Irish concedes doing so would result in higher taxes-an unpopular outcome.
City Mayor Brian Tobin said he agrees more needs to be done to repair sidewalks, he just doesn't want to do it through taxes-he'd rather it be done through a dedicated revenue stream intended only for sidewalks.
He pointed to all the services taxpayers already support in the city, such as police and fire departments, and the personnel costs associated with each.
Instead, Tobin has proposed establishing a program which would charge homeowners about $0.10 per square-foot of their sidewalk frontage. This would be an annual cost associated with homeownership, and that money would be put into a pool which the city could draw from to help pay for the cost of repairing sidewalks for those who can't afford it.
"I prefer an assessment based on frontage, as opposed to adding it to the tax base," said Tobin.
The proposal will be brought to the council for consideration in the 2022 budget, he said.
Through Thoma Development Consultants, the city also offers financial assistance to homeowners for sidewalk repair. Subsidies are capped at $800 and individuals can apply here . There are no income requirements to apply.
Homeowners should also always keep up with routine maintenance of sidewalks, such as pulling weeds from cracks and of course shoveling them completely in the winter.
While perfect sidewalks may not be in their future anytime soon, Fritz and Irish are committed to continuing their nightly walks. But not everyone can do this. Dilapidated sidewalks pose an accessibility barrier for mobility limited individuals and individuals in wheelchairs.
Access to Independence has long advocated for safe sidewalks in the community.
"Properly designed and maintained sidewalks create safe and accessible communities for everyone," said Alison McCabe, Education Advocacy Coordinator at ATI. "Sidewalks and intersections that are constructed using universal design principles help to provide equal access for people with and without disabilities."
Navigable sidewalks, along with longer crossing times at intersections, are two of the causes the organization has lobbied for over the years.