can the Sidewalk Plan be repaired?

Today’s Schenectady Gazette reports that “City share of costs for troubled sidewalk program escalates: Officials pledge to save troubled initiative” (by Pete DeMola, Jan. 29, 2020). The article begins:

The city has seen its share of replacing sidewalks on Ardsley Road jump from $63,000 to $159,192, again calling into question the shifting costs of the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.

The city has seen its share of replacing sidewalks on Ardsley Road jump from $63,000 to $159,192, again calling into question the shifting costs of the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.

The original bid to replace sidewalks on Ardsley Road came in at $179,435. But final costs were $238,194, which resulted in homeowners getting hit with bills twice as high as they were expecting.

 The rapid and unexplained rise in City Share (about $96,000) is particularly puzzling, because we have been told by Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Engineer Chris Wallin that the huge bills sent out to Ardsley Road residents a month ago were caused by unexpected costs for Top Soil, Seeds, and Tree Removal. But, the increase in Soil & Seed costs (which were almost 12 times as much as in the approved and supposedly reviewed Contractor’s Bid) were “only” an extra $42,538. Moreover, the Tree Removal costs, which were always going to be paid for by the City, were merely $9000 more than in the Contractor’s Bid. That leaves over $40,000 in City Share costs unexplained by anyone and by any figures shown in the original Contractor’s Bid or the new Project Cost sheet.

We are left with some big questions:

  1. How could the Contractor’s Bid, which did not include the surprise additional $42,538 Soil and Seeds expense, have been 84% more than the Polimeni-Wallin estimates? There apparently were tens of thousands of dollars of costs not anticipated by the Polimeni-Wallin estimate calculations and not yet disclosed to the Residents, or even to Council members.
  2. How did the City Share balloon from the $37,000 subsidy unveiled at the January 7, 2020 Committees Meeting, to what amounts to a subsidy over $96,000? How much of a subsidy is the City (taxpayer) willing to supply for future Project sidewalk districts to keep costs for Sidewalk Plan residents at a reasonable level, and a level likely to attract residents to the Plan?

DAGArdsleyCover Click on the thumbnail to the right for David Giacalone’s Comments submitted to City Council for the Public Hearing on Monday, January 27, 2020, regarding the Ardsley Road Sidewalk plan and the City’s proposal to reduce the cost to the Homeowner-Residents to $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk (an amount that would still be 25% higher than the estimates for the program given in January 2020 by Councilman John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Walling). The Comments contain a breakdown of relevant costs, showing the original Contractor’s Bid, the revamped Cost Sheet giving “actual” Project Costs, and the escalation in the City’s subsidy to the Ardsley Rd. residents in order to reach the $55.44 figure. The Comments include discussion of many of the questions and issues raised by the puzzling numbers in the first and second Cost Sheets and the City’s “explanations”.

At the Council Meeting on Monday, Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, who along with Vince Riggi, voted against the enabling Resolution for the Sidewalk Plan, both emphasized that improvement is crucial, and revamping the entire Plan should be considered. Perazzo called the increase in the City Share “breathtaking.” Polimeni’s co-conspirators in adopting the Plan and approving both the Ardsley Rd. Bid and New Cost Sheet, Ms. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Ed Kosiur, had nothing to say about the Ardsley Rd. frustrations or the ballooned subsidy by the City.

Despite all the problems and unanswered questions, John Polimeni told the Gazette:

“We’re making attempts to correct and make it better in the future,” he said after the meeting. “As the architect of the program, I’m going to do what I can to make sure it succeeds.”

However, with so many uncertainties as to costs and procedures, and so few blocks likely to volunteer for this Sidewalk Assessment District plan, here is, to my mind the:

MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Are those large and unexplained costs expected to be encountered by every block petitioning to be in the Sidewalk Assessment District? If so, does it make sense to continue the Program, which was never destined to be used by more than a tiny percentage of City blocks, rather than pausing or junking it?  Wouldn’t it be more responsible to do the homework necessary to construct a system in Schenectady that is fair to property-owners and taxpayers, and will actually achieve what we all want, a sidewalk network that is in good repair across the City? [click this link to see a description of how Rochester and Syracuse approach sidewalk repair.]

GazLTE-Bacheldor29Jan2020 See the Letter to the Editor in the January 29, 2020 Gazette by DeCamp Avenue petitioners Laurie and David Bacheldor, who are rightfully upset and asking the right questions.

Here are side-by-side depictions of the Cost Sheets used by the City for Ardsley Road. 

[L] CONTRACTOR BID COSTS  and [R] NEW PROJECT COSTS:

CompareArdsleyCosts

[L] CONTRACTOR BID INDIVIDUAL RESIDENT COSTS and [R] NEW PROJECT  INDIVIDUAL RESIDENT COSTS (prices):

CompareArdsleyPrice

. . for more details on how this fiasco happened see our Jan. 7, 2020 posting . .

THIS TALE IS TO BE CONTINUED.

p.s. I continue to believe that the Sidewalk plan was pushed and rushed by Mr. Polimeni and the Mayor’s office for the political purpose of having a block completed before the November 2019 election.

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our slip ‘n’ fall sidewalk plan was no accident

 

 

The City of Schenectady government slipped and fell hard on its collective butt in orchestrating completion of the first block of sidewalks under its Sidewalk Assessment District Plan. Of course, it is the Petitioners on Ardsley Rd., and eventually Schenectady taxpayers, who will feel the pain. The new Ardsley Rd. sidewalks on the block from Union St. to Rugby Rd. are apparently fine, but the failure to inform the Homeowners of the surprisingly high cost may doom the entire Sidewalk Program, which relies on property owners convincing their neighbors to participate with predictions of big savings.

. . share this post with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkFiasco

The Sidewalk Plan was controversial for being adopted by City Council without needed details and explanation (see Gazette article, March 13, 2019; click to see the disappointing Explanation of the Plan provided to the Council and the public by sponsor John Polimeni). Nevertheless, there was nothing inevitable about the “slip ‘n’ fall” calamity that happened on the way to replacing and billing for the new sidewalks on Ardsley Road. See our discussion here for full details; and “City hits speed bump with sidewalk program” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Jan. 3, 2020); “Foss: City’s new sidewalk program a disappointment” (Sunday Gazette, by Sara Foss, Jan. 5, 2020).

 Even after the Sidewalk Plan was prematurely brought up for a vote and adopted by the City Counsel in a 4-3 vote in March 2019 (with Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Marion Porterfield voting No ), there were many points at which the outcome of the first completed block — an approved Contractor Bid with Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Costs 84% higher than Plan sponsor John Polimeni’s estimates, and initial Annual Bills calculated at an even higher rate, with no prior warning to Homeowners — could and should have been avoided.

On the other hand, the excessive cost to the Ardsley Rd. homeowners, and failure to keep them informed, was not an accident, either. It was due to deliberate choices made by the two City officials most actively engaged in the Sidewalk District Assessment Plan: Council member John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin, along with secondary negligent oversight by the remaining Council members.

Part of the problem might have been that Prof. Polimeni believed, as he told a Gazette reporter last March, that “the process would be ‘relatively easy’ despite the numerous city agencies involved”, and “It’s not your typical runaround sometimes you get.” Nonetheless, relatively easy or not:

Ardsley Road Contractor Bid

  1. NO WEBPAGE. The promise of City Officials (mentioned in the Gazette last March) to “attempt to quickly add a section to the city’s website about frequently asked questions concerning the program,” was never fulfilled.
  2. MAY 1 DEADLINE. The first deadline set by the City Engineer, May 1, for completed Petitions was only 6 weeks after the Plan was passed by the Council, helping to assure that the first bid request would involve only one block’s Petition.
  3. ONLY ONE BID. When only one Contractor submitted a Bid for the Ardsley Road project, the Plan administrators pushed ahead, rather than waiting until more Petitions were ready for a joint bid request, even if that meant waiting until Spring for the projects to be started.
  4. 84% HIGHER. When the single bid for Ardsley Road came in with prices to the Homeowner 84% higher than the Polimeni estimates given in the Plan Statement earlier in the year, the cost overage was
    1. Never brought to the attention of the full City Council
    2. Never used as a reason to delay the Plan implementation
    3. NO DISCLOSURE. More importantly, never revealed to the Ardsley Street homeowners, despite requests by Homeowners for cost information throughout the summer.
  5. SidewalkCmteMtgPREMATURE COMMITTEE VOTE: When Mr. Wallin presented the Contractor Bid for approval and award of the Contract (at City Council Committee Meeting for Sept. 3, 2019), neither he nor Mr. Polimeni alerted Council members, and the viewing public, that the Homeowners had not yet seen the dollar figures, much less been given the chance to withdraw their Petition. And,
    1. LAST-MINUTE SUBMISSION. Wallin did not submit the focus of the Presentation, the actual Contractor Bid, for Council members to review until the start of his 15-minute presentation to the Council Members on Sept. 3, 2019.
    2. NOT “ALMOST EXACT”. Mr. Wallin specifically told City Council members prior to asking for the Committee approval of the Bid, that that the Bid “comes in almost exactly at our construction estimate, based on our historic experience.” Intentionally or not, Wallin seems to have confused the historic cost of $80 per square yd. that was used in Polimeni’s Estimates, with the Bid price of $81.71 per linear foot, which resulted in a cost 84% higher than the Polimeni Estimates. Or, as he has done before, Mr. Wallin said the Party line to support a favorable vote.
    3. SILENT PROFESSOR. At no point did Mr. Polimeni, chair of the Finance Committee and sponsor of the request for bid approval, correct the mis-impressions presented by Mr. Wallin, leaving some Council members unaware of the failure to present the Bid numbers to the Homeowners, and unaware of the giant cost increase from Plan estimates.
      1. AND, FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS: It is very difficult to believe that the two other members of the Finance Committee, John Mootooveren and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, allowed this matter to be placed on the Council Committees agenda without knowing how high the price would be for the Homeowners and without asking whether the Homeowners were ever told of the Bid results. If they knew the situation, they are also at fault for failing to inform the rest of the Council before they all voted to accept the Bid and award the construction contract.
  6. CONSENT AGENDA. Still not informed of the mis-impressions stated above, on September 9, 2019, the City Council approved the bid and contract award presented at the Sept 3. Committees meeting, with the Resolution placed on the Consent Agenda and no public discussion.
    1. There is no indication that any of the Ardsley Rd. Homeowners were notified formally or informally of their Contract Bid being on the Sept. 3 or Sept. 9 agendas.
  7. KEPT IN THE DARK. At the time construction of the sidewalk project began in October, the affected Homeowners were still unaware of the cost increase. And, they were never shown or told of the higher prices after the project was completed in November and into December.
  8. SURPRISE BILLS. When they received their bills in late December from the City for the first of ten annual Sidewalk Payments, the Ardsley homeowners had still not been shown the approved Contractor Bid Sheet, and were given no explanation for the amount they were charged, which was about $100 per ft., another 25% higher than the Contrator Bid “Total Resident Cost” of $81.71 per foot of sidewalk.
  9. TOP SOIL? Mayor McCarthy stated the extra cost was due to unexpected tree removal and landscaping expenses. But, the Contractor Bid specifies that Tree Removal was a City Share expense (see detail from Bid to the Left), not a Homeowner Expense. And the $81.71 price per foot already included seed and topsoil expenses, and has no provision for adding on unexpected costs. See image to Left. update (Jan. 23, 2020): Mayor McCarthy, along with Ed Kosiur, have kept up the refrain that the Ardsley bills were so high because of unexpected Tree Removal and Top Soil & Seed costs. See “Schenectady Mayor promises to fix troubled sidewalk program” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 23, 2020). The detail from the Contractor Bid above in ¶8 shows that the total Top Soil and Seeds cost in the Bid came to under $4000, only 3.3% of the $116,435 total cost to residents.

. . Ardsley Rd. Homeowners generally like the new sidewalks, but they cannot forget how poorly they were treated during this “pilot” block project . . 

Why would City Hall treat the Homeowners on the Ardsley Road Petition so shabbily? It is difficult to believe that John Polimeni and Chris Wallin are too ignorant of fair play and good government processes to accidentally keep the Residents and the Council informed.  If nothing else, Mr. Polimeni was being asked for the bid/cost information before and after the sidewalks were completed. Wallin said he wanted to beat the winter weather, but that assumes there was some great disadvantage to waiting until Spring. The only reason that makes sense to me is that Polimeni (and probably his Party leaders) wanted the block to be a milestone to point to in the Election.

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follow-up (Jan. 11, 2020): CITY COUNCIL ADDRESSES THE ARDSLEY BILLS

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break up McCarthy’s Council Clique

. . click this link for the discussion below of the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan.

. . subtitle: let’s fire John Polimeni . .  

SchdyCouncilFinal  update (Nov. 6, 2019): Last night’s election results [click on image to the left from Times Union] for Schenectady City Council were quite disappointing to those of us who had hoped to achieve a more deliberative and better-informed City Council, to make its dynamics and processes wiser and more small-d democratic. The entire 4-person Democratic Party slate was elected, with a surprising loss by independent Vince Riggi, our “voice of reason (in the wilderness)”. [see Gazette article; TU Election Results] I hope newcomer Carmel Patrick will resist the “mushroom management” style of Mayor Gary McCarthy, and demand to be better informed about facts, goals, alternatives, legal requirements, etc., before voting on matters before the Council.

Congratulations to Leesa Perazzo on her impressive re-election result. Leesa will need to be more vigilant and persevering than ever.

. . Gazette‘s Halloween Trick: At the bottom of this post I respond to the Gazette editorial that endorsed John Polimeni for re-election.

When it became clear in late June that Mayor Gary McCarthy would have no opponent on the November 5 ballot, I wrote to his primary opponent Thearse McCalmon and at my Facebook Page that:

4monkeysGreenX THE BEST THING we can do right now is to continue to work toward this November election, to DENY MAYOR GARY McCARTHY HIS NEARLY CONSTANT FOUR-VOTE MAJORITY of the same four Democratic Council members. If he knows that he could lose any particular resolution he presents, Mayor McCarthy will have to:

  • Seek Council and Public input early in the legislative process
  • Provide more information to the Council and public;
  • listen to the public and respond accordingly;
  • encourage and expect probing questions from the Council ; and
  • stop insisting on nearly instant passage of resolutions, without evaluating and explaining options, and without incorporating thoughtful criticism, including comments received at public hearings, and without supplying relevant information, even when requested by Council members.

The next best thing to a new mayor is a mayor who can no longer count on getting all his desires rubber-stamped.

Looking at the people who will be on the November 2019 City Council Ballot, we need to think about and support the people most likely to be independent thinkers, who will insist that the Council is the City’s legislative and policy leader, not the Mayor. And, who see themselves as the partners of Schenectady’s residents and neighborhoods, not partners of the Mayor’s favored developers and commercial interests. [update (Nov. 3, 2019): The Sunday Gazette has an article by Pete DeMola that captures the dynamics of the City Council race, “In race for Schenectady City Council, Democratic unity belies more complicated tensions: Seven candidates campaign for four seats”. It notes, for instance, that if Vince Riggi wins one of the four contested seats the four Democrats on the ballot are competing with each other for the three remaining seats.]

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight. . the Mayor and his Gang of Four

FIRE POLIMENI. The 4-member Council “Rump” Majority is made up of Council President Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, John Mootooveren, and Karen Senecal Zalewski-Wildzunas. Only Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni are on the ballot from this Council Clique. Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo are also on the ballot, seeking re-election. (See Gazette article)

 Because of the many legislative missteps that we have seen initiated and pushed by John Polimeni, in addition to his virtually always acting as either a silent rubber-stamp or cheerleader for Mayor McCarthy, I believe we should work to ensure that Prof. Polimeni does not win re-election to the Schenectady City Council. 

  • Riggi-Kosiur Council Members Vince Riggi (Ind.) and Leesa Perazzo (Dem.) are also running this year. Schenectady needs to re-elect Vince Riggi and Vince has earned it, by listening to constituents from all parties, asking tough questions, and by seeking more and better information. Unfortunately, Vince has been frustrated time and again by the rush to voting that the Rump Majority allows the Mayor to pursue.
  • If Leesa Perazzo is re-elected, I hope she will become an even stronger independent-thinker and actor on the Council.

 SILENT WITNESS/Co-Conspirator. John Polimeni has not spoken out to [1] Ask for Privacy Safeguards for the City’s Smart City information gathering, and now says he wants to use the data to generate revenue, which means No Privacy, as the City sells information gathered about its residents and visitors to marketers. (see our post “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework.” [2] Demand that the Mayor return our replica Statue of Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Plaza, as was promised in the Final Plan approved by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. (In fact, he signed an error-filled petition to send Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park; click here for the full Lady Liberty Story.) Nor, [3] Complain when Rivers Casino acknowledged that its lobbyists were seeking to reduce the 45% gaming tax on slots revenue to below 40%, meaning at least a 12% reduction in slots gaming revenue. Any reduction, of course, would mean less money coming into the City’s coffers.

  • Our Council members must actively and vigilantly serve the interests of Schenectady’s residents, and speak out when Mayoral proposals, Department action or inaction, or Corporation Counsel opinions, need to be further investigated and explained.

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