City Funnels 50/50 Funds

Nine homeowners awaiting city funds to repair cracked sidewalks
will get passed over this year as officials divert thousands of
dollars from a backlogged program to a single project. The effort
to install sidewalks and gutters just north of Eliot Elementary
School represents the first of many projects that could eat away at
a sidewalk-repair program already criticized as underfunded.
Gilroy –Nine homeowners awaiting city funds to repair cracked sidewalks will get passed over this year as officials divert thousands of dollars from a backlogged program to a single project. The effort to install sidewalks and gutters just north of Eliot Elementary School represents the first of many projects that could eat away at a sidewalk-repair program already criticized as underfunded.

The city now has a two-year backlog of 110 homeowners awaiting assistance from the 50/50 program, which on average doles out $2,000 per homeowner to cover half the cost of sidewalk repairs, according to program manager Al Signorotti.

This year, officials plan to use $18,000 from the 50/50 fund – enough for about nine projects – to install gutters and sidewalks along a 430-foot portion of Forest Street, just north of Eighth Street, that is notorious for flooding. Another $18,000 will come from local gas taxes.

Councilman Roland Velasco, whose parents live across the street from the proposed improvements and who often attends events at the Portuguese Hall at the end of the block, pointed out the dangers posed by the lack of street improvements.

“I’ve seen people walking in the area and when it’s raining they have to walk in the street because it gets flooded,” Velasco said. “There’s a school nearby, children live in the area, and we want to make sure they have a sidewalk to walk on.”

Forest Street is just one of many areas throughout the city lacking sidewalks and gutters. Officials have not compiled an exhaustive list, but the current tally includes 21 areas measuring 21,750 feet. Most areas lie in the older parts of Gilroy around Monterey Street and east of the railroad tracks.

Velasco first raised the issue of gaps in sidewalks and gutters during budget workshops last winter. In June, councilmen signed off on funding for the Forest Street improvements as part of the 2005/06 fiscal year budget.

City Administrator Jay Baksa said councilmen must prioritize other “gap closure” projects based on need, first targeting areas with the worst drainage and highest use – especially those traversed by school children.

While acknowledging the need for the improvements, Planning Commission Chairman and City Council candidate Dion Bracco said the money should not come out of the 50/50 program.

At press time, it remained unclear who at City Hall decided to use the city’s 50/50 program to help finance the project. Velasco said he was unaware the funds would come from the sidewalk-repair program and gas taxes, but defended their use for the Forest Street project.

“Instead of taking it all out of one funding source, we’re spreading it out so that any one program doesn’t take the hit,” he said.

Mayor Al Pinheiro said officials eventually hope homeowners will shoulder the cost of sidewalk and gutter installation in those areas lacking such improvements. He said city attorneys are reviewing the possibility of placing liens on homes to finance upgrades.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is we still need to have people pay their fair share.”

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