Snow ordinance finally OKed by council

Folks who fail to shovel the snow on their sidewalks this winter could find themselves shoveling cash out of their wallets under a new ordinance in Oxford Village.

Following months of discussion, drafts and revisions, council approved, in a 4-0 vote last week, a new snow/ice removal ordinance with some last-minute changes adjusting the fines for violators.

“This is not aimed at Joe Schmo who happens to miss a day that it snows,” explained village President Sue Bossardet. “It is aimed  . . . (at) the people who go two (or) three months without shoveling their sidewalk.”

The new ordinance – the full text of which is here – is designed to repeal and replace the existing ordinance from 1977. Officials have been working on new language since February.

Under the new ordinance, whenever “naturally-falling” snow or ice ceases to “fall or accumulate during daylight hours,” it must be “removed from the sidewalks within 12 hours after the cessation.” If the snow or ice ceases to “fall or accumulate during the nighttime,” it must be “removed from the sidewalks by 7 p.m. the following day.”

“It’s really not any different than the old ordinance,” said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. “(We’ve) changed some times. (We’ve) tweaked some things. You’ve always been required to shovel your sidewalk and yet people don’t.”

Oxford’s old ordinance stated whenever snow falls or ice forms on the sidewalk, it had to be removed “within 24 hours.”

The new ordinance also puts restrictions on where snow can be piled following its removal. Under it, the moving of snow or ice “onto a roadway” or “within 3 feet of any fire hydrant” is prohibited.

It also prohibits moving and depositing snow “onto or across the shoulder of any roadway or any alley in a manner which obstructs the safety vision of the driver of a motor vehicle.”

The biggest difference between the old and new ordinance is the increased amount violators will be fined.

Officials are hoping higher fines will compel folks who own and/or occupy residential and commercial properties to keep adjoining sidewalks clear and safe for pedestrians.

Individuals who violate the proposed ordinance would face civil fines of “not less than $50 or more than $500, plus costs and other sanctions, for each infraction.”

The previous 41-year-old ordinance imposed a fine of $15 for violations. Failure to pay the fine was punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 and the cost of prosecution.

“Each day that a violation continues shall be deemed an additional and distinct violation,” the new ordinance states.

Repeat offenders will face increased fines.

It states, “For a second offense in any three-month time period, the civil fine shall automatically be set at $150. For any additional offenses in any three-month time period, the civil fine shall automatically be set at $500.”

In the spirit of compromise, council changed some fine amounts right before voting to approve the new ordinance. The first offense minimum was lowered from $150 to $50 and the second offense fine was reduced from $200 to $150.

These changes came after some opposition to the original fine amounts was expressed by council members Dave Bailey and Joe Frost.

“I still think that the fines are excessive,” Bailey said.

Based on his reading of the language, Bailey said a person “could conceivably have five violations all in one day” and if that person was assessed the $500 maximum for each, “that’s $2,500 (in) just one day.”

“Shovel your sidewalk,” retorted Helmuth. “I think there’s excessive snow on the sidewalks.”

“I don’t think the average person here is going to get tickets,” Helmuth continued. “(The code enforcement officer is) not going to be waiting outside your door at 7 o’clock  (to issue a ticket).”

“I don’t know anybody who is going to commit five offenses in one day,” Bossardet said. “You have to have no brain power working if you’re going to do some of those (things) that people know are against the law.”

Bossardet noted the village’s code enforcement officer currently only works two or three days a week. “He is not going to get out there with a tape measure . . . and run around town to every residence and every business . . . if we (have) a snowfall,” she said.

In Bossardet’s view, this new ordinance is designed to target “habitual offenders.”

“If you’re not shoveling your sidewalk, then you deserve to get a ticket,” she said.

After listening to his fellow council members, Frost said, “Interestingly enough, I agree with all of you.” He called a $150 minimum fine for a first offense “extreme.”

Frost agreed “there are some habitual offenders in the downtown,” but he feared fines that are “too high” could become a burden for “some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

“Pick a number,” replied Helmuth. “What do you want for the first offense?”

“I would be more comfortable with a first offense (fine) of $50 . . . Second offense $150,” Frost said. “$50 should be a wakeup call.”

Bossardet initially was “not sure” whether $50 was “serious enough” and argued the proposed fines should “stand.”

Helmuth pointed out if a $50 fine doesn’t get someone’s attention, the $150 and $500 fines for the second and third offenses within three months will. Whether the proposed fines were approved as presented or lowered, she was “OK either way.”

“I think we’re beating a dead horse,” she said. “Let’s just pick a number and move on.”

In her opinion, the code enforcement officer is “not going to give a ticket to a 92-year-old woman who didn’t get her sidewalk shoveled.”

“He’s going to find a neighbor to do it or the neighbors are already doing it,” Helmuth said.

“I’m willing to go with these smaller numbers, certainly,” Bailey said.

“It’s a compromise,” Frost said. “$50 is a heavier fine than the $15 that is currently in existence.”

In addition to fines, the proposed ordinance empowers the village manager to have snow or ice removed from a violator’s sidewalk and charge the owner or occupant “the full expense” for the work “plus 15 percent for inspection and related costs.”

Conceivably, a violator could receive a civil fine and be obligated to pay the village to have his or her sidewalks cleared.

Village Manager Joseph Madore noted that not every violator who receives a ticket will have their sidewalks immediately cleared by the Department of Public Works (DPW).

“It might be two or three days before the DPW has time to get there,” so they would be able to shovel themselves and only have to pay the fine, he explained.

The village plans to compile a list of approved contractors to call on as backup when the DPW doesn’t have time to do this extra work, Madore added.

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