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'Outrage' fuels man's kindness

February 10, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Mary Jane "Sadie" Zook, 86, received a $223 check in the mail last week from a stranger.

A city of Hagerstown contractor in December cleared snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of Zook's Virginia Avenue home and she was billed $223 for the work.

The check for the same amount was sent in part out of kindness, and in part because of "outrage," said Dr. Tom Gilbert, who wrote the check.

Gilbert, chairman of emergency medicine at Washington County Hospital, said he has seen many older patients come to the hospital with injuries related to falls on snow and ice.

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"I thought it was an outrage that an 86-year-old get charged for ice and snow on her sidewalk," Gilbert said.

The check would be a help, Zook said

"I'm still in awe of all this, and I have written Dr. and Mrs. Gilbert a note thanking them profusely," Zook said Monday.

She said she has deposited the check in her checking account, but hasn't decided what to do with the money. She won't need it to pay for clearing her sidewalk, she said, because a neighbor usually clears her sidewalk for free.

Zook said paying the bill to the city wasn't a major inconvenience, but she didn't feel she could fight the charges.

"I didn't go on food stamps or anything like that, but I could have used it for something else," Zook said.

Gilbert said he sent the check after reading a story in The Herald-Mail about Zook being charged for the work.

Gilbert said he conferred with his wife after he read the story, called Zook and sent her the money.

"I just thought it was a good thing to do," Gilbert said.

Zook's house was among 51 Hagerstown properties from which a contractor for the city removed snow and ice after storms in early December and mid-January.

A city ordinance requires property owners to clear their sidewalks within four to 10 hours after a winter storm ends. Officials say the ordinance increases public safety.

After a review of the way the ordinance was being applied, city officials last week changed the policy to delay enforcement until at least 48 hours after a storm.

Officials also said they intend to clear city-owned sidewalks before any private property owners are charged for snow removal.

If a property is not in compliance with the ordinance, inspectors will issue a written warning about the costs associated with snow removal, and will list a time frame during which the contractor would come to do the work. If the owner clears snow before the contractor arrives, no charges will be assessed.

The city charged each owner a $100 administrative fee plus the contractor's charges, which included a $45 salt application fee and labor. Total charges ranged from $173 to $285 each time a contractor removed snow.

The city also can fine property owners $200 in addition to the clearing costs, but no one has yet been fined, officials have said.

City Spokeswoman Karen Giffin said Monday that administrators had not decided whether people who were charged under the previous policy would get refunds. She said it would be up to the mayor and council, and they did not discuss that matter last week.

Zook, who has lived in her house continuously since 1946, said she's grateful for the help.

Zook said if the city were to refund her money, "which I doubt, I'll send Dr. Gilbert's check back to him."

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