A vote last week to install a 1,400-foot sidewalk has opened a fissure in the usually close-knit Board of Commissioners.
The vote came after weeks of debate about the 2012 road improvement program, a topic that usually hardly raises an eyebrow among borough residents. But a push to install sidewalks along the Washington Avenue corridor that leads into the Tavistock golf course rallied neighbors against it.
Commissioner Jeff Kasko sided with the neighbors and voted against installing a sidewalk along the sprawling, winding roadway with large, distinctive homes. Commissioners Tish Colombi and Ed Borden voted to install the sidewalks. The sidewalks will be installed.
"It amazed me that any elected official would take a vote, in my opinion, against pedestrian safety," Colombi, the mayor, said. "What I heard at every meeting from neighbors there was that 'we need something to control the speeding. Why not give us speed bumps?'"
Neighbors there have grown accustomed to not having sidewalks and extending landscaping to the street. The residents have also expressed concerns about maintenance of sidewalks, which customarily reverts to the homeowner once installed.
Borough officials have argued that they have a responsibility to promote pedestrian safety and sidewalks are part of that mission. They also stressed that the cost of the sidewalks is significantly reduced when including them with area road projects. The sidewalks here are expected to cost about $60,000 out of a $700,000 road and drainage improvement.
But Kasko eventually decided the neighbors' concerns and the sidewalk cost added up to a no vote.
"I don’t think we should have a blanket rule that where ever there isn’t a sidewalk we’re going to put one in, no matter what," Kasko said. "I’m all for public safety and pedestrian safety, but there are other concerns. You weigh the cost of the project, what effect it has on flooding and shade trees.
"It didn't pass the test. Is it worth it to spend that money and create divisiveness up there in that neighborhood for the couple of people who are going to walk on the sidewalk? It's not worth it."
Kasko has increasing found himself at odds with Colombi and Borden in recent months. He and Borden had a when both slammed their hands on a desk to make a point.
Borden, the commissioner who oversees public safety, said the sidewalk on Washington Avenue was the right thing to do.
"I think when we are installing streets it's the least expensive time to install sidewalks," he said. "To me, it's a safety issue. Sidewalks are safe for pedestrians. It's the right and safe thing to do."
Colombi hinted that Kasko's vote could be "political." All three commissioners, the highest elected borough officials, are up for reelection in 2013. But the current division in borough government crosses party lines. Kasko and Colombi are Republicans and Borden is a Democrat. But borough elections are nonpartisan and party affiliation is not listed on the ballot.
Kasko dismissed Colombi's insinuation that his vote was about politics.
"Everything that I approach, every vote to spend tax dollars, is not motivated by politics," he said.
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