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City to enforce snow removal downtown

– In a major reversal, the City Council’s snow committee decided Thursday it now wants to enforce the city law requiring sidewalks to be clear of snow and ice.

The council’s ad hoc Snow Removal Task Force has been wrestling with a conundrum: Members want sidewalks shoveled after snow storms but also do not want to fine property owners, especially elderly or disabled homeowners who may not be able to shovel.

City ordinance requires sidewalks to be clean of snow and ice by 9 a.m. every day; violation can result in a $2,500 fine. But officials have said they don’t believe anyone has ever been fined and none has been eager to start.

Still, pushed by Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, who formed the task force, the panel has been investigating enforcing a modified version of the law downtown and around schools. Thursday, that was further narrowed to just downtown and then just the core of downtown.

“It’s just an informal recommendation by this body, but I think it’s a good test project,” Jehl said. “It’s on a limited basis in a high-priority area.”

Downtown Improvement District Executive Director Bill Brown said DID officials do make courtesy calls on the half-dozen or so owners that refuse to clear their walks and remind them the law requires shoveling, but he said there needs to be an enforcement mechanism as well.

The ordinance will be modified to change the time requirement, and instead of a fine, violators will be handled the same way those with tall grass and weeds are: There will be a warning and a certain amount of time given to clear the snow. If it is not cleared, a contractor will clear it and the property owner will be billed.

Councilmen Tom Smith, R-1st, and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, will work with DID and Neighborhood Code officials to craft the ordinance.

“The nice thing is we have about seven months to put it together,” Jehl said later.

Though the committee will not meet anymore, members will continue to work with the Public Works department to develop a way for neighborhoods to give feedback on plowing operations. And Smith is working on ensuring businesses do not stack snow piles in their handicapped-parking spaces.