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New bids might mean cheaper snow removal

October 19, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The price of not shoveling your sidewalk this year in Hagerstown likely will be going down from last year, when it was widely believed that property owners were being overcharged under the city's sidewalk snow-removal program.

The City of Hagerstown requires property owners to clear snow from their sidewalks after storms, and can clear sidewalks at property owners' expense. Officials also can fine property owners $200 for violating the rules.

Last winter was the first time the city actively enforced the rules, but one thing that irked some officials and property owners was the $45 a city contractor charged to lay salt on sidewalks.

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After a new bid request, city officials are recommending Hagerstown-based Servtec Custodial Inc. for this year's contract. Servtec will charge $19.50 per worker hour and $17 for each 50-pound bag of salt the company uses. The City Council usually picks the contractor recommended by city officials.

A second bidder offered to do the work this year for $50.50 an hour, plus $55 in other charges per property.

Of the recommendation, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said, "It's better. You want (the cost) to be a deterrent, but you don't want to kill people."

Hendershot said he hoped most people would clear their own sidewalks and not wait until the city did it for them. For those who can't clean their own walkways, Hendershot said he and others are working to come up with a system to help.

Fellow councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he was more concerned about the way the rules are enforced than the cost of the contractor.

"I don't think the price is the issue," Aleshire said. Rather, the city should "make sure that the playing field is level, not excluding ourselves."

Servtec owner Charles Burkett guessed his cost to clear one sidewalk would be $55 to $75, depending on the size of the sidewalk, which would bring the total cost to a property owner, including a city administrative fee, to $115 to $135.

Last December and January, dozens of property owners were charged $173 to $285 after the city's contractor cleared snow from their sidewalks. The cost included a $100 city administrative fee and the contractor's charges.

After a flood of public complaints, the city in February refunded the administrative fee to those who already had been charged and lowered the fee for future snowstorms, but the money charged by the contractor was not refunded.

This September, officials set a new policy in an effort to make enforcement more fair. The administrative fee was set at $60. The policy also called for city-managed sidewalks to be cleared first and lengthened the amount of time to clear sidewalks for most property owners.

According to the new policy, repeat offenders also would be fined $200, on top of the contractor and administrative fees.

Burkett has previously contracted with the city to clear fresh-fallen snow from some city-owned property at $15 an hour for labor and $5 for salt. This contract is more expensive, he said, because he'll be clearing snow and ice that has been on sidewalks for several days and is more difficult to remove.

Burkett said his price has some profit built into it, but that is not necessarily what he's after.

"You're talking about work not a lot of people want to do. And hopefully, a lot of these older people will be able to get other people to do it instead of having me to come out (to do the work)," Burkett said.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the contract recommendation at its voting session next Tuesday.

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