Councilman Chris A. Robins recently asked if the city could copy Buffalo's new 48-hour pothole policy, under which Mayor Byron W. Brown has promised all complaints will be addressed within two days.
Mayor Vince Anello said the city already fills potholes large enough to be a public hazard within a day or two but doesn't have enough workers to repair the rest that quickly.
"Pothole crews have historically been used for filling gaps between street construction [phases]," Anello said. "It's been sporadic."
The city administration is preparing a proposal to boost the city's attention to potholes this season by adding six temporary workers and leasing more equipment at a total cost of about $100,000.
The plan would mean that three crews with one permanent and two temporary workers each could focus on filling potholes for 106 days before the money would be exhausted, Anello said.
That could mean the majority of potholes get repaired this year, according to John Soro, head of the Streets Division.
"There's so many potholes out there that we could be patching forever," Soro said. "I think the city infrastructure is aging and causing a lot more problems for city streets."
Soro, a 33-year city employee, said the pothole problem stems from water and sewer lines, and connections to homes, that are deteriorating and allowing water to seep under the pavement. With the freeze and thaw of spring, that moisture causes cracks and dangerous potholes on public thoroughfares.
Soro said the city has had four crews working on potholes since the second week in March, and each crew repairs dozens of potholes a day, with all complaints addressed within four days. The priority list starts with emergency potholes reported by the Law Department and then covers complaints made to City Council members, the mayor and the Department of Public Works.
The crews split the city into three sections -- DeVeaux, Center City and LaSalle -- and systematically work their way down streets in each section.
Anello said the city can devote those workers to pothole repair right now because the street construction season hasn't started yet, but many of those employees will soon be needed for sidewalk repair and street pavement programs.
For the last three years of his administration, Anello said, the city has had two pothole crews working off and on during the summer.
Anello said he's not sure where he will find $100,000 for the three dedicated pothole crews, but he's working with the city controller and hopes to make that decision with the City Council.
Anello was finalizing the plan at the end of last week and said he would contact Council members to talk about it and hopes to gain approval at the next meeting April 16.
Some councilmen were happy to hear a plan is in the works because they said the pothole complaints never stop.
"The streets are just embarrassing," said Councilman Sam Fruscione. "It's just terrible."
Marge Gillies, chairwoman of the Niagara Beautification Commission, led a bus tour of the city in March to assess what needs work, and she agrees.
"There are potholes all over and terrible conditions in the road," she said.
Councilman Lewis Rotella said he is confident the city will be able to find $100,000 for such a pressing problem but said he wouldn't support the use of temporary workers.
"The blacktop work is specialized work," he said. "I would be in favor of going out to bid."
Meanwhile, the Council is putting together a plan of its own to address the aging infrastructure in the city and wants to use the interest that has been earned on casino revenue.
The city earned $144,000 during 2006 from short-term investments made with the $13 million in 2004 and 2005 local casino revenue the city received last fall, according to City Controller Maria Brown.
The Council gave $30,000 of the interest to the Aquarium of Niagara last month, but Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. said the remainder and any future interest earned should go toward demolitions and street construction.
He said the Council has decided against putting together a committee that would review applications from nonprofit organizations that have been asking about the interest revenue. Instead, he wants to use the remaining $114,000 to help demolish deteriorated and vacant houses in the city that pose a fire hazard.
Anello suggested it's not a coincidence that he's looking for about $100,000 for pothole repair crews and that the Council is discussing what to do with roughly the same amount.
Anello and Anderson are both running for re-election this year, but Anderson is supporting Rotella in his bid to unseat Anello.
Fruscione said he doesn't think politics will get in the way of making infrastructure improvements this year and believes both plans make sense.
"If the money is in the budget to do it, then do it," Fruscione said. "We're all trying to get to the same goal, so let's just move forward with it."
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