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Hagerstown tweaks its snow-removal policies

February 07, 2004

After getting a blizzard of criticism for a policy that cost an 86-year-old city woman $223, Hagerstown officials now say they'll go the extra mile to make sure those ordered to shovel their walks get every opportunity to comply.

The city ordinance requires property owners to clear the walks in front of their properties between four and 10 hours after the snow falls. If they don't, the city can have the walk cleared, send the bill to the property owner and fine them $200.

Nobody's been fined so far, but the labor, administrative fees and salt have cost property owners between $173 and $285 - and that's per sidewalk!

If that seems salty, city officials say there are a couple of reasons for that. It's the first year of the program, and after sending out 14 bid packets, they only received a single reply.

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There's also a cost for the inspector's time, city officials said. And because no property has been turned over to the contractor for at least 48 hours, the snow is often compacted to the point that it takes a lot of salt and scraping to get it cleared.

The city has conducted an information campaign to inform people about the requirement, but will now take the extra step of not beginning abatement until a letter has been delivered to the offending property.

More than 1,000 violation notices have been sent out on snow-removal this year, according to the John Lestitian, the city's chief code enforcement officer.

Each notice has a phone number to call, but Lestitian said only 10 have called and said they were physically unable to do the work. When that happens, he said, the department suggests the person seek help from the Commission on Aging. The city also offers a list of private contractors who do such work.

In most cases, people get three or more days to clear the walk before the contractor is called, he said. And he said it's the city's intent not to turn over properties to the contractors until the city cleans the walks it's responsible for.

We urge residents who get a notice to call the department and seek help. For safety's sake, the walks must be cleared, but unless your property is enormous, it shouldn't cost hundreds of dollars to get the job done.

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