When Nancy Wagner asked Oyster Bay to remove a tree that was touching a power line, she did not expect a $1,200 bill.
A town inspector looked at the trees in front of her Farmingdale home and decided she needed to replace much of her sidewalk and two other trees as well.
"I certainly didn't expect them to mark up half my [sidewalk slabs]," said Wagner, 50, a software project manager. "I thought they were just going to take out the tree, and that would be the end of it."
Tree roots had pushed up slabs of concrete, creating parts of the sidewalk that were uneven.
It is unclear how many homes the town flags for sidewalk repair every year. Oyster Bay spokeswoman Marta Kane did not respond to requests for statistical information about sidewalk repair.
Some residents said they thought the work was necessary and applauded the results. But others questioned why homeowners were on the hook for the costs when the town had planted the trees that damaged the sidewalks.
Ned Schlanger, of Westbury, said he recognized his sidewalk had to be replaced because tree roots had pushed up the slabs, but he said the town's contractor created a new problem.
"It was OK" before the work, said Schlanger, 65, who is self-employed in sales. Now "the water seems to pool in the driveway."
Last month, Wagner received a letter that said she could either hire a private contractor to replace 192 square feet of sidewalk or have the town's contractor replace the concrete for $1,200.
What the letter didn't state was that she could ask for a reinspection or that she might be able to smooth the sidewalk by grinding it down.
Town consultant Hal Mayer of Cashin Spinelli & Ferretti and Nassau Suffolk Engineering & Architecture, said the town's regulatory framework is designed to protect the public. Some municipalities have detailed guidelines about what constitutes a hazard but Oyster Bay's code simply requires that the property owner maintain the sidewalk in a safe condition.
"There is no objective standard in the code as to what is dangerous; that is up to the professional judgment or experienced judgment of our inspectors," Mayer said.
He said grinding down sidewalks was acceptable for homeowners if it removed the hazard. "The ordinance is that property owners have to maintain the sidewalk in a safe condition and if they go and do that, and that creates a safe condition, then they wouldn't have a problem," Mayer said.
"We don't tell the homeowner how to repair their sidewalk," Kane said.
Mayer said the town will send a more senior inspector to look at the sidewalk if the owner challenges the initial assessment.
Wagner, who disagreed with the inspector's judgment, sent a letter to the town complaining about the process. Someone else with the town went to her home, but it wasn't an inspector, she said. "I don't know that another inspector has come, and they haven't made any movement to take out the tree," Wagner said. "I'm kind of in limbo now."