WESTBROOK – A request by a condominium association for sidewalk snow removal has raised the issue about gaps in public services for Westbrook taxpayers.
Twice within the past month, representatives from the Brydon Farm condo association have been at City Council meetings, asking what it would take for the city to clear off their sidewalks during the winter.
The request has been met with opposition from both the city’s Department of Public Services – responsible for clearing sidewalks, plowing and paving – and some members of the City Council, who have cited a significant increase in costs associated with the request.
“The average age is 70 years old, we have a lot of people that can hardly walk, but they like to walk for exercise,” said William Boyle, spokesman for Brydon Farm during a June 3 council meeting. “The average tax rate up there [at Brydon Farm] is $4,500. I understand the average tax rate in private residences is $3,300, so that’s a $1,000-plus difference. There are subsidized housing apartments up there. Now, I don’t begrudge people of being subsidized, but they’re getting services that we’re not getting. We would like to get this done so our people can walk in our street.”
Tom Eldridge, director of public services, said staff cuts in recent years have made it difficult to clear the city sidewalks already agreed upon and adding new sidewalks would be an even greater strain on the department.
“We receive lots of requests to clear sidewalks. There are 40 or 50 miles of sidewalks in Westbrook and we provide winter maintenance to about 20 miles of that,” Eldridge said. “The ones we do plow are the busiest in the city and the ones for school kids walking to school. We haven’t added any new sidewalks to that list in years.”
Eldridge said the city has ordinances that govern where the department provides services. Years ago, there was a change in the ordinance that cut most services to developments with more than 10 units, including trash removal. Two or three condominium facilities were allowed to keep public trash removal because they had been around before the rule was in place, so they were grandfathered in, said Eldridge.
Eldridge said public services only plows public roads that have been built to city standards and approved as public ways by the Planning Board. Brydon Farm, which is located off Route 302, has Brydon Way and Grandview Drive, both public roads and therefore plowed by the city.
Eldridge said most condo associations are located in developments that are on private roads and do not receive any services from the city.
City Councilor Mike Foley disagreed with adding more public services to Brydon Farm, especially if the developer built the sidewalks knowing they did not meet city standards, but at a cost savings to them.
“Adding additional services to condo associations would represent a significant increase in cost to the city and we’d have to do that for everyone,” Foley said during a June 3 council meeting.
But other councilors were more sympathetic.
“They don’t get the same services as other taxpayers,” said Councilor Mike Sanphy during the same meeting. Councilor Paul Emery supported Sanphy’s motion to review the request from Brydon Farm at a future council meeting.
There are 72 condominiums on the Brydon Farm property, far exceeding the maximum number of properties on one parcel that triggers the divide between services covered under the city and services that are handled by the condo association.
John Aden, president of the Brydon Farm condo board, said the streets in Brydon Farm do get plowed, but the sidewalks do not. There is no public trash pickup.
“We’re paying full-blown taxes, they’re kind of high taxes, for very little services,” said Aden. “It just doesn’t seem fair. We don’t need a lot of stuff.”