City wades through snow policy

July 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown city officials on Tuesday kept their promise to look at controversial snow-removal rules, but City Council members raised some questions about proposed policy changes.

Dozens of home and business owners in the city received bills last winter after a city contractor cleared snow off sidewalks on their property. According to the city code, sidewalks downtown must be cleared within four hours of snowfall, and all other sidewalks must be cleared within 10 hours.

The proposals discussed Tuesday reflect some policy changes made last winter after a public outcry over the enforcement of the rules, as well as some new ones.


City Engineer Rodney Tissue presented a three-page policy statement on how to enforce the rules during the City Council's Tuesday work session. An official decision on the adoption of the new policy isn't expected until September.

Tissue recognized problems with last year's policies, recalling "vivid memories from that last winter" and problems "we wrestled with," but he also said the efforts were largely successful.

"We raised the bar last winter on snow removal from sidewalks," Tissue said.

Tissue said residential and commercial property owners likely will have more time this year to clear their sidewalks before the city begins enforcing its rules.

Tissue said his proposals call for employees of city departments in charge of city-owned property to report to him before he issues the go-ahead to enforce the snow-clearing rules.

Then, under the proposals, the city inspectors would enforce the rules based on a list of priorities. The top priority would be downtown; then walking routes near schools, hospitals and government offices; then shopping areas near homes; and finally residential areas.

If an inspector discovers a sidewalk has not been cleared, code enforcers will post a notice on the property telling the owner the date and time a contractor would come by to clear the walkway, said John Lestitian, the city's chief code enforcement officer. If the sidewalk is cleared beforehand, no charges would apply.

Lestitian also said that according to the new proposals, if there is more than one storm in the time period set by the city to clear off sidewalks, "we'd be giving people a lot more time" to comply.

Tissue said the city would compile a list of disabled and poor residents so officials could find volunteers to help them clear their sidewalks.

There were no proposed changes to the $200 fine assessed to repeat offenders. Lestitian said no one was fined under the snow-removal rules last year.

However, before the city changed its policy in February, most of those charged for snow clearing were charged more than $200. The charges included a $100 administrative fee, labor and a $45 charge for salt application.

In response to complaints, the city refunded the administrative fee to anyone charged before February, then set a $25 administrative fee for any further offenders.

The new proposals outlined Tuesday would set the fee at $60.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner questioned the administrative fee and the labor costs during the meeting.

"I just think $60 is too high for a first offense," Metzner said. He also said the city should try to avoid a situation in which the contractor is charging "$100 to lay down 35 cents worth of salt."

Tissue said that while there was only one company that placed a bid on the snow-removal contract last year, he would invite more companies to bid on the contract this year.

City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said the new policy statement does not address the question of who is responsible for injuries received on uncleared sidewalks and urged residents to comply with the rules.

"You make arrangements for somebody (to clear walkways) if you cannot get out and do it," Nigh said.

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