City council approves shorter shovel notice

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
— Some Janesville City Council members admonished the city to clear its own sidewalks before it requires residents to do the same.

Some members also suggested Monday that the city hire contractors to clear the sidewalks when property owners fail to do so.

Those comments came as the council approved a change in procedure that is expected to get snow-covered sidewalks cleared faster.

A city ordinance requires walks to be cleared 12 hours after a snowfall. However, the city normally enforces the ordinance only when people complain.

The city sends an inspector when it receives a complaint, and if the walk is not clear, a letter is sent to property owners. The owners have three days from the date of the letter to clear the walk. Normally, two of those days have passed by the time they get the letter.

The city then sends an inspector again to verify the walk has been cleared. If it’s still un-shoveled after the three days, the city schedules a crew to clear it.

Normally, it takes about a week for a snow-covered walk to be cleared, said city Operations Director John Whitcomb.

Eliminating the letter will cut about half that time from the process, Whitcomb said. Instead of a letter, city inspectors will try to contact residents at the offending addresses at the time of inspection. Failing contact, the inspector will hang a notice on the door.

The city probably would clear the walk the next day if the property owner doesn’t do it, Whitcomb said. But Whitcomb said more residents would respond to the personal contact. He said property owners may live out of state, but tenants would take on the responsibility if told of the problem.

At the same time, City Administrator Eric Levitt added a provision that the city would not start clearing a violator’s sidewalk until at least 48 hours after a snowstorm. Levitt said he wanted to give residents a break in the event of a tough snowfall.

That prompted council member Tom McDonald to ask why procedures give the city 72 hours to clear city-maintained sidewalks. Russ Steeber agreed this could be seen as hypocritical.

Whitcomb said complaints are generally not received until several days after a snowfall, and city workers don’t clear property owners’ walks before they clear the city-maintained walks.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the change. Frank Perrotto voted “no,”

saying eliminating the letter was a good first step but that more should be done to clear sidewalks more quickly.

Perrotto said he’s seen sidewalks not cleared for many days.

“It’s wrong. Somebody could get hurt,” Perrotto said.

And people with disabilities face extra challenges with snow- and ice-covered walks, added council member George Brunner.

The procedural change will not happen immediately. Whitcomb said in a memo to the council that efforts would be made to inform residents before it is put into effect.

Perrotto asked what the city charges for clearing a sidewalk. Whitcomb said a minimum of $124.

Perrotto asked if that covers the city’s expenses. Whitcomb said it covers only the actual snow work. The inspection time and administrative time is not covered.

Perrotto said the city shouldn’t provide a service and lose money in the process. He said contractors should be hired. Steeber and Bill Truman agreed.

Truman said the city’s unionized workers are overworked during snow-removal now and that the union would likely not oppose contractors in this instance.

Whitcomb said the issue is already being discussed with the union.

Last updated: 12:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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