High price of cement puts sidewalk program in St. Clair Shores on hold, again

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 8, 2019

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Citing the rising price of cement and the burden that sidewalk replacement could place on residents, the St. Clair Shores City Council voted 6-0 to reject the sidewalk replacement program for 2019.

Italia Construction, the same company that completed sidewalk work in 2018, was the low bidder for the three-year contract proposal, bidding $633,612.50 for the work, an amount that is an estimate based upon the amount of work the city expects to do in 2019.

That means it would cost residents $149.50 for a 4-inch, 25-square-foot flag of sidewalk, and $170 for a 6-inch, 25-square-foot flag of sidewalk with all costs and inspections.

In 2018, the cost was $113 for a 4-inch piece of sidewalk and $125.25 for a 6-inch flag.

“I’m kind of troubled by how much it goes up this year. That’s quite a bump,” said Councilman Chris Vitale at the March 4 City Council meeting.

The price of concrete is expected to rise as much as 30 percent this year, explained Community Development and Inspection Director Chris Rayes.

But other council members echoed Vitale’s concerns.

“It’s not usually just one square of sidewalk that gets marked — it’s multiple squares,” said Councilwoman Candice Rusie. “That adds up considerably. I don’t feel comfortable putting this kind of cost on a resident.”

District 6, which is east of Harper Avenue from 12 Mile Road to 13 Mile Road, was slated for sidewalk repair in 2019. Italia Construction bid the same price for all three years of the contract.

“There are some really bad sidewalks out there, but I don’t want to be charging people crazy amounts of money,” Councilman Peter Rubino said. “You’ve got an elderly person on Social Security, that could be a big chunk of their monthly income ... especially if it’s caused by a tree that’s in the right of way that the city won’t let them remove.”

Mayor Kip Walby pointed out that the price of cement may continue to be high if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to increase taxes on the price of gas to pay for more road repairs goes through.

“If the governor achieves the ‘fix the roads program,’ I don’t expect it to go down,” he said. “The demand for cement is going to go up.”

The City Council last put a moratorium on sidewalk replacement in 2015. The program returned in 2017. At the March 4 meeting, the council voted to look at the price of concrete for sidewalk replacement again in 2020.

“We think that this year’s prices are a result of the amount of work that’s being done,” City Manager Mike Smith said.

Some council members also had a problem with the contract going to the same company that had many residents complaining about service and driveway aprons being removed with allegedly little notice in 2018.

“I won’t vote for them anyway,” Councilman Peter Accica said. “I can’t see awarding them a contract, the way they operate.”

The next-lowest bid was $745,850 for the project.

City Attorney Robert Ihrie said that there would not be a large liability to the city by holding off on sidewalk repair for a year.

“I was shocked at the numbers,” Councilman Ron Frederick said. “We did a moratorium before, and I didn’t see a change in the amount of lawsuits.”

Councilman Chris Vitale said he would like to know how many residents had to replace multiple slabs of cement in 2018.

“How many people would we expect to get a bill for $150, and how many people would we expect to get a bill for $300 and above?” he asked. “I do think it’s an important program, but I don’t want to sock people with these enormous bills.”

The City Council also debated awarding the low bid to Italia Construction for scattered sidewalk repair as a result of water main breaks and other unforeseen projects.

Frederick said that he wasn’t in favor of giving any contract back to the company because of all the calls he and other council members received about the company in 2018.

“I’m not in favor of Italia this year for anything,” he said. “They’ve got to get control of their people in the neighborhoods.

“We try to use the lowest bidder, and that’s a great thing, but maybe at the end of the day that’s not the right thing, because we’re having problems.”

Rayes said that the city has problems “with every contractor on some level.”

And Vitale pointed out that some of the same employees may move from company to company, depending on who is hired for the city’s contract.

Italia Construction was awarded an $84,821.50 contract for the scattered site work with a vote of 4-2, with Frederick and Accica voting against it. Councilman John Caron was excused absent from the meeting.

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