Thanks to the recent warmer temperatures and rain, just about all of the snow that had previously fallen so relentlessly for about a week straight has melted, leaving behind bare pavement and brown grass.
But that didn’t stop the Oxford Village Council from discussing the white stuff and its removal at the Feb. 13 meeting.
A Jan. 18 memo from Glenn Pape, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), prompted the discussion.
In his memo, Pape proposed the village have an ordinance requiring that snow and ice be removed from sidewalks “to form an open path of at least 42 (inches) in width.”
Pape suggested some language.
“In business districts, the snow or ice must be removed within four hours of when the snow or accumulation stops or by the beginning of business hours on the next day, whichever period is shorter,” he wrote. “In all other zoning districts, snow or ice must be removed within 24 hours after the snow or accumulation ends. Subsequent drifting of snow on sidewalks must also be removed.”
It was suggested that people “who fail to comply” be issued a civil infraction with fines of $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense within one year and $100 for the third and each subsequent offense within one year.
“In addition, the village may clear sidewalks and the property owner will be charged for the work performed,” Pape recommended. “The minimum fee for the village to remove the snow is $75 per visit and $30 per visit to treat ice. Costs to clear (the) sidewalk are in addition to the civil infraction violation fine.”
What Pape proposed is much stricter and more costly in terms of penalties than the current village ordinance.
Right now, the owners and occupants of both residential and business properties have to remove snow or ice “within 24 hours” after it has fallen or formed. Anyone who fails to do this “shall be” fined $15. Failure to pay the fine is punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 and the cost of prosecution.
A number of council members agreed something needs to be done to ensure people keep the sidewalks clear during the winter months.
Village President Sue Bossardet believes there needs to be some “teeth” behind the snow/ice ordinance as opposed to requesting voluntary compliance, “which we just don’t receive.”
She believes the village needs to do more than just talk about this subject.
“The problem existed last year. Nothing was done about it,” Bossardet said. “We’re having the same issue this year. It’s like all we do is just keep passing these problems along. And nobody ever does anything about them.”
Councilman Joe Frost felt the same way.
“I think the fine ought to be increased so that there’s more teeth (to the ordinance) . . . We have an ordinance on the books that just needs to be enforced and I think strengthened,” he said.
“I challenge any one of us to walk on a sidewalk in this village without trouble,” Frost added. “It’s a serious issue across the board.”
Councilman Erik Dolan said he has “no interest in walking in the winter,” but he understands there are others who “love the outdoors” and they should be able to walk the village if that’s what they wish to do.
“There are some residents who their only
mode of transportation is to walk,” Frost noted.
Dolan believes “part of the problem is in the past, there’s always been the ability to negotiate with management and the police department (to get) out of the ticket.”
“We have a different administration now all the way around. I think uniformity and consistency is the best way to address it,” he said.
Speaking as chairman of the DDA board, Fire Chief Pete Scholz agreed enforcement is a big issue. “I can almost name the businesses that have never touched a snowflake (since the winter began),” he said. “They have not shoveled one inch of their sidewalk this entire time. It just detracts from the rest of the community.”
He believes the fines for noncompliance should be in the $100 to $125 range.
“If there’s going to be a fine, it’s got to be more than $15,” Scholz said.
Police Chief Mike Solwold suggested that perhaps the parking tickets his officers currently use could be modified to include a civil infraction portion related to snow/ice removal, so during their patrol time, whenever they see someone has not cleared their sidewalk and is not responding to warnings, they could issue a citation.
He noted his department has already stepped up its enforcement efforts when it comes to handling parking violations and it’s having an impact on the situation.
Parking violations are up 233 percent from the previous year, according to statistics provided to council by Solwold. Since November 2017, a total of 103 parking tickets have been written and the village has received a total of $2,350 from those tickets between November 2017 and January 2018.
“(Writing a ticket) gets their attention. It really does,” Solwold told council. “Usually after we cite a vehicle, we don’t have any encounters with that person again. We (get) some colorful comments at times, but it does get rectified. You should see some of the things they write on their checks.”
Solwold clarified for this reporter that the increased parking enforcement was not something initiated by the police department.
“The council and the DDA wanted to see some action as far as parking enforcement,” he explained. “As much as you hate to write parking tickets, you have to have order . . . We’re just trying to keep order in the lots and parking is (at) a premium.”
As with everything else they do in the field, Solwold told council his officers would exercise discretion when it comes to handing out tickets for snow/ice violations because it may be the person is unable to clear the sidewalk due to age, disability or the fact they’re out of town.
“We need to think about that, too,” the chief said.
Although she favors stricter enforcement, Bossardet didn’t like the idea, suggested in Pape’s memo, of using Department of Public Works (DPW) employees to clear violators’ sidewalks.
“We are not flush with DPW workers. We have five,” she said, so in her mind, to expect them to clear those sidewalks on top of plowing all the village streets and public parking lots “is not right.”
Village Manager Joseph Madore noted the municipality did not have a code enforcement officer in place from the end of December until “just last week.” The officer has since been making the rounds enforcing the snow/ice ordinance, he said.
“He was pretty impressed with most of the residential area,” said Madore, but the officer did identify a number of violators in the downtown area who were notified to clear their sidewalks.
The manager noted some of those violators who have properties along M-24 complained about plow trucks from the Road Commission for Oakland County throwing snow back onto their sidewalks after they had shoveled.
“We have no control over that,” he said. “County’s going to come when they come.”
“That’s life being on a state highway,” Madore noted.
Dolan suggested he would like to see the village adopt a snow emergency ordinance that would limit on-street parking during winter storms so as to allow DPW plow trucks easier access when clearing streets.
“Right now, we have little to no cooperation or compliance from residents, visiting parkers and businesses,” he said.
Cars parked on the street during snow storms are a hindrance to DPW plow trucks.
“It requires them to come back more frequently . . . as opposed to being able to expeditiously clear the snow . . . in one continuous effort,” Dolan said.
In many communities, Dolan explained snow emergencies are typically declared whenever there’s going to be at least 4 inches. The public is notified via the mass media and social media, and whoever is parked on the street is cited by police.
“In order to get compliance and make jobs easier (and) reduce our overtime for the DPW . . . we have to take action,” he said.
In order to get the ball rolling, council voted 5-0 to “surrender” all of the aforementioned snow-related topics to the village administration and attorney, so they can “devise a strategy and a suitable ordinance for implementation in the forthcoming winter.”
Village attorney Bob Davis advised council to “jump on this (issue) now, while it’s still cold out.”
“You won’t be thinking about this in July,” he said.