Township officials voted last week against appropriating $55,000 for a bond to repair sidewalks damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Typically, a property owner is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk in front of his or her home. However, the discussion arose at the Montville Township Committee's Feb. 26 meeting as the township has previously funded similar repairs following destructive storms such as Sandy. Ultimately, the ordinance was rejected with Committeeman Scott Gallopo, Committeeman Don Kostka and Mayor Tim Braden voting against the bond ordinance.
Since the money to repay the township debt incurred by the bond would be paid with taxpayer dollars, some expressed that they did not believe it was fair to fund repair projects that would only apply to some residents.
"I'm in opposition to this bond because it favors a handful of people, 53 property owners, whereas many people in Montville had damages, lost income, salary, etc. from Sandy" resident Kurt Dinkelmeyer said during a public hearing on the ordinance.
Resident Dan Pagano said he also felt that the township should not cover the cost and noted an instance where a curb was damaged by a tree company hired by the township but repairs were not to be picked up by the municipality.
"We're fixing sidewalks that I don't think are the town's responsibility but we can't get an asphalt curb fixed," he said.
Township Administrator Victor Canning said the township's policy is unclear on who is responsible for the sidewalk repairs after such a storm and that the township has covered similar costs previously.
"The township has, in the past, taken care of curbs and sidewalks and removed trees and stumps under less of a condition than the hurricane that we dealt with this fall," he said.
He also noted that the township was forced to assist with clearing sidewalks, even when the work may not have been the municipality's responsibility, immediately following the storm.
"If we turned around and took the adage that, 'Hey, listen, it's the homeowners' responsibility,' we would have had streets blocked off," he said.
Canning said that as he understood the township's policy, under normal circumstances and normal wear and tear, the homeowner would be responsible. He said he felt it would be prudent for the township to more clearly define the scope of what is outside a normal circumstance, though, and also put in writing that planting trees between curbs and sidewalks is not advised.
Gallopo said the committee should make a strong effort to ensure that the ordinances the township has on the books and the policies that are put into action match up. In this case, while the township's ordinance indicates that sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of a property owner, the policy that has been in place for the past 30 years says the Department of Public Works will remove trees and replace sidewalks damaged by them if they are damaged during a storm-related incident and in the right-of-way.
"I dont like the fact that we have policies and past practices that are in direct conflict with ordinances that we have on the books," Gallopo said. "We're constantly putting out fires because we're trying to clean this stuff up."
Still, Committeeman Jim Sandham said the committee should be sensitive to the cause of the damaged sidewalks and that the storm was a natural disaster.
"For $7 a household, which is what we're talking about here, I would support this ordinance," he said.
Committeewoman Deborah Nielson also acknowledged what had been done in the past and said it is the responsibility of the committee to make it clear in which circumstances the municipality will assist with repairs.
"We, collectively, as a body, should have recognized that there were loopholes and taken the opportunity to perhaps close those loopholes," she said of what had been done in the past following Irene.
Braden said he also did not think it fair, however, for the township to discern which storms sidewalks would be repaired after based on the category of storm.
"I acknowledge Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene were super storms and tragic events, however, if we are going to separate a homeowner whose tree went down and dislodged his sidewalk in Sandy from a neighbor whose tree went down in a thunderstorm in July, I can't support this relief," he said.