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Amherst Board weighing options for plowing sidewalks

One possibility is to plow snow from sidewalks along selected Amherst corridors that serve as bus routes and tend to have the most pedestrians.

A second is to plow those corridors, but only the stretches where there are homes.

Another alternative is to just plow the sidewalks on all the major corridors in town at a cost of more than $1 million a year.

Those were some of the options presented Monday to Amherst officials, who are weighing a more widespread, comprehensive effort to clear snow from sidewalks along its major roads this upcoming winter.

While Amherst has been tinkering with sidewalk snowplowing for the last few years, it’s limited to only two special districts in town. And after the brutal winter, more homeowners want the town to plow their sidewalks, too.

Now, the Town Board is grappling with just how far it should go to plow sidewalks and who should pay. There’s a difference of opinion on the Town Board about whether sidewalk snowplowing should continue as a special taxing district – paid for by those who use the service – or get rolled into the highway budget and paid for by all town taxpayers, even though not everyone would get their sidewalks plowed.

“There is no easy answer to this,” said Daniel Howard, an associate town planner. “Somebody is not going to get the service they think they should.”

Howard serves on the town’s Sidewalk Snow Relief Committee, which was tasked with studying the issue in more detail. The committee reviewed all the major corridors in Amherst and prioritized them based on a variety of factors, including speed limit, number of lanes, amount of area to store snow, pedestrian activity, the number of bus stops and sidewalk complaints.

Howard presented the committee’s findings to the Town Board during a Monday afternoon work session. Options include:

• Plowing sidewalks only along the residential areas of so-called “priority” corridors. Those would include Bailey Avenue; East Robinson Road; Heim Road; Kenmore Avenue; Main Street; Maple Road; Millersport Highway; Niagara Falls Boulevard; North Forest Road; Sheridan Drive; Sweet Home Road; and Wehrle Drive. Cost is estimated at more than $374,000, or $2.75 per linear foot of sidewalk. Homeowners who receive the service pay.

• Plowing sidewalks along the entire stretch of these targeted corridors, which are heavily used by pedestrians and buses. In this case, the sidewalk plowing would be “for the greater public good,” so it would be paid for with a townwide tax. Cost is estimated at more than $757,000, or 9 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. In other words, Howard said, homeowners with a house assessed at $150,000 would pay $15 more on their town tax bill. A business assessed at $3 million would pay about $270 more on its town tax bill.

• Plowing sidewalks along all major corridors. The same corridors would be targeted, as well as a number of other collector and arterial roads, such as Transit, Eggert and Harlem roads. This also would be covered by a townwide tax. Cost is estimated at $1.078 million, or about 13 cents per $1,000 assessed value.

The other options, Howard said, would be to keep the limited service offered now at a cost of $55,000 a year, or add in those homeowners who have already requested the sidewalk snowplowing.

The Town Board made no decision on Monday, but instead requested more information from the committee. The town, however, is likely to make some kind of determination in the next few months, so it knows how to proceed by winter.