By RUSSELL JONES
In a spirited debate Wednesday night, the Pittsford Selectboard discussed how to get funding for a sidewalk project in front of the Lothrop Elementary School and cleared up some erroneous facts that had been circulating since the Town Meeting vote.
The sidewalk discussion has been brewing since May of 2018, when the town received $100,000 in state funding to repair the stretch of sidewalk along Route 7 that required a 50 percent local match. The town requested to use Burditt trust money to partially fund the project, but the request was denied by the Otter Valley school board.
Both the selectboard and the town’s school board must approve the use of the Burditt Trust funds, but since school consolidation this has been a point of contention. The town thought they should need approval of only the Pittsford members of the Otter Valley Unified Union board, while the OVUU board contended it should be a majority decision.
“The dispute started before Hank (Pelkey) and I were ever on the board,” selectboard chair Tom Hooker said. “We went to court to decide who should have the authority to approve it, and the court said we were right, we only needed the Pittsford members of the school board to agree, but the OV board didn’t like that so they appealed.”
Hooker said they came to an agreement through mediation in which the entire OVUU board would vote on the issue, with a majority (including the two Pittsford board members) needed for approval to disburse funds, as long as the town still agreed.
Once an agreement was in place, the town asked the school board to make a decision on the sidewalk. The school board met on March 20 and denied the request for $100,000 from the Burditt fund.
“We were originally baffled by that because we thought we only asked for half, $50,000,” Pittsford Town Manager John Haverstock said, but he admitted a mistake. “I sent them the wrong paperwork that did have $100,000 on it, but we are going to ask for only $50,000,” explaining that $100,000 was for the total cost of the project.
Hooker said the town had planned to use $25,000 from village surplus funds and $25,000 from Highway department funds, hoping the Burditt fund could fund the remainder.
“The school board has been going on about the need to keep kids safe,” Hooker said. “That sidewalk is the most unsafe thing for kids in this town. There is no difference in the sidewalk and the road.
“There was also a feeling that if we got this, we’d come back and ask for a new dump truck or something,” Hooker continued. “No, we would never do that; it’s for Pittsford children. That fund has always been for Pittsford children.”
Haverstock said the Secretary of Transportation Chris Cole came down and walked the road and agreed that the sidewalks were in terrible shape.
“He suggested that we go for this grant with the 50 percent local match,” Haverstock said. “Because there was very little red tape involved in getting awarded the funding and it came with local control.”
The biggest problem with the sidewalk in that area, according to Hooker, is the amount of paving that has been done to Route 7.
“Over the years, the road has been raised. Each time it gets paved, the road gets a little higher,” Hooker said. “The road gets raised, the sidewalk stays the same and now they are indistinguishable from each other.”
Haverstock said that point was illustrated best during a tree-lighting ceremony when the school principal asked parents to line the sidewalk to keep cars from striking children, basically using them as a human shield.
“It’s bad near Furnace Road, also,” Hooker said. “Someone wants to turn left and the traffic backs up. Next thing you know, someone will pass on the right there using it like a shoulder when really they’re driving on the sidewalk.”
Pittsford is scheduled to have work done on Route 7 in the future, however, and during that work, the sidewalk will be torn up and later replaced.
Several selectboard members expressed interest in attending the OV school board meeting on April 17 to properly present the facts of why a sidewalk is needed and have a more in-depth discussion with the school board about the project.
Selectboard member Joe Gagnon, however, did not sound like he was in agreement with the others.
“I feel strongly that this is the state’s ball of wax. I was a crossing monitor in ’51 and ’52, and that sidewalk was just as bad then,” Gagnon said. “The state has passed the buck and we’re faced with the problem. But wasting money on a sidewalk that is going to be torn up in a few years, that’s not how Dan Burditt would have spent his money, and I knew Dan Burditt better than anyone in this room. He left that money for the school.”
“He left it for the town,” Pelkey said. “I’ll argue that point with you.”
“He left it for the town’s school and the children that go to the school,” Hooker said. “And this is a safety issue for the school children.”
Gagnon agreed that it was a safety issue. Hooker said if the school denied the request again, the sidewalk repair would probably be dropped, as the town cannot spend that kind of money alone because it simply does not have it. “I know I don’t want to be the one sitting up here on this board and a kid gets hurt or killed,” Hooker said, adding “(and) we’re sitting up here still saying we should have fixed it.”