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Fees for clearing walks irk residents

January 30, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Mary Jane Zook said the sidewalk in front of her home on Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown was always cleared by her neighbor after snowstorms - except one day in December.

The neighbor who usually shoveled her snow couldn't do it that day, said Zook, 86. Because her sidewalk wasn't cleared, Zook received a $223 bill from Hagerstown's Code Compliance Office.

"I think they should have warned you, for heaven sakes," Zook said Thursday. She paid the bill anyway, she said, "because you can't fight city hall."

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The city charged Zook a $100 administrative fee, $78 for labor and $45 for a salt application, according to her bill.

"I know it damn well wasn't $45 worth of salt," Zook said.

The city began clearing sidewalks in December. While it had not enforced the code before December, the city can clear snow and ice from sidewalks under a code provision, said Chief Code Enforcement Officer John Lestitian.

The code requires property owners to clear sidewalks within four to 10 hours after a snowstorm, depending on whether the property is inside or outside the boundary defined by Church Street, East Avenue, Mulberry Street, Baltimore Street and Prospect Street.

Lestitian said the city can fine property owners $200 in addition to charging them for clearing their sidewalks, although no one has been fined.

According to information Lestitian provided, city contractor Build All Construction Corp. has cleared 52 sidewalks on 51 properties in December and January. One owner was charged on two different occasions for a sum of $514.

"These were sidewalks that weren't even touched," Lestitian said.

He said all the property owners had two to four days after the two snowfalls to clear their sidewalks.

He said he wouldn't comment on specific cases.

The total amount billed by the city was $10,743. Of that, $5,543 will be paid to Build All Construction and $5,200 will pay for inspection fees.

Lestitian said the administrative fee covers the cost of sending an inspector to a property twice, once to determine the owner hasn't cleared a sidewalk, and the second to confirm that the contractor did the work.

Lestitian said the rest of the money goes directly to the contractor. It may seem expensive, but the work is being performed by a company instead of a hired hand.

"Corporations have overhead," he said.

Lestitian said the city wants to clear sidewalks for the safety of its residents, especially children and senior citizens.

He also said the city has been trying to make the public aware of the code requirement. The city has been running newspaper and television advertisements, and inspectors have been placing reminders on properties that haven't been cleared, Lestitian said.

He said the city has not warned individual property owners before workers began clearing snow.

Sondra Williams, 29, of Hagerstown, said a bill for $201 was sent without warning to her grandmother's home for sidewalk clearing in December. Her grandmother, Marjorie Sappington, was in a nursing home then, and has since died.

"I didn't understand about the bill," Williams said. "The family's been trying to keep up with the house as much as possible. ...

"It sounds like a pretty high bill. I don't even know what was done," Williams said.

Her grandmother's home is a row house with no front yard and a small sidewalk, she said.

Madelyn Miles, 69, of Frederick, owns half of a duplex on North Mulberry Street. She received a bill for $201 earlier this month.

"It's just a headache. ... I didn't get any warning," Miles said.

She said the home is not occupied, but her daughter is planning to buy it soon.

"I sure don't want anybody to get hurt in front of my sidewalk," Miles said. "It's just expensive."




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