City likely to OK revised snow policy

September 25, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Mary Jane Zook again is counting on others to shovel her Virginia Avenue sidewalk this year when winter storms cast their chilly blankets.

But unlike last year, she probably will be able to avoid receiving a city snow-removal bill for $223 if friends or family cannot make it to her house immediately.

The Hagerstown City Council is expected on Tuesday to approve a new set of guidelines on how to enforce the set of rules that require city property owners to clear their walkways after snowstorms.


Included in the new guidelines, the city now would have to provide written notices to residents who are in violation of the rules before taking any action against residents. The notice would give residents and property owners a chance to clean their sidewalks and avoid any charges or fines.

The guidelines will give residents more time to comply with the rules while still aiming to keep city sidewalks clear for pedestrians, City Engineer Rodney Tissue said.

Zook's bill came after a storm last December. The neighbor who usually shovels her walkway had been away, and Zook received the bill without notice in the mail a few weeks later.

In February, the city refunded some money to people who had been charged in the snow-removal program and reduced some of the charges. More changes were proposed in July.

Zook, 87, said this week that she thought the proposed changes were a step in the right direction.

"That's a good idea," Zook said, saying it appears much different from the way the rules were enforced last year.

Last year, "Did they go eenie-meenie-minie-mo, or something like that? ... It sounds like it to me," Zook said.

Another policy change would require city offices to clean their own sidewalks first before code officers can take any action against private property owners. Tissue said this means it likely will be several days before city inspectors begin looking at private property.

"That is just without (saying). ... As long as they do it" like they say they will, said Maureen Jett, 48, who owns a business on West Washington Street.

Jett's business is next to a small piece of city-owned land, and in January, she noticed it had not been cleared while the city was targeting sidewalks on private property.

The sidewalks on Benita Hawkins' corner house on West Side Avenue were cleared twice by the city last winter. Hawkins, 47, said she was floored by her bills, which before the refund totaled $514.

After seeing a copy of the new policy, Hawkins said she still doesn't like the fact that the city is charging people to clear the sidewalks, but she thinks the policy is fair.

"They (were) just hittin' us in the stomach last year," Hawkins said. "This year, they're starting from the top of their heads. It's fair." Zook's neighbor, April Crowl, said she thinks the new fees described in the policy to be enacted still are too high. While the fee technically is not a fine - the real fine is $200, and will be charged to repeated violators - Crowl, 52, said she sees no difference.

"Sixty dollars for an administrative process? ... It is a fine. That's exactly what it is. It's punitive," Crowl said.

Tissue said the $60 charge will cover the inspectors' work to document the violation, issue a notice, document the city-ordered cleanup and log the work into a new computer system.

Tissue said it may take a change of mind-set, but the city's top concern is safety.

"Folks need to plan on how they're gonna get their sidewalk cleared ... just like they plan on how they're going to get their grass cut," Tissue said.

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