Shoveling sidewalks a civic responsibility

January 3, 2013

The city of Washington is responsible for clearing snow from its own streets and public parking lots. Everyone who lives and works in the city has a right to complain when streets are not plowed; when on-street, metered parking spaces are unusable because of plowed snow and ice that has not been removed many days after a storm; and when metered parking is enforced in city lots that have not been plowed and have become dangerously icy.

Sidewalks, however, are not the responsibility of the city but rather that of property owners. Those who do not shovel sidewalks and keep them clear of ice are subject to a fine, yet this ordinance is routinely ignored.

It’s not as if this idea is new. The ordinance regarding snow on sidewalks was first enacted here Feb. 24, 1903, when Washington was still a borough. The ordinance read, in part, that occupants – owners or tenants – are required “to remove snow from the sidewalk adjoining their respective properties within 12 hours after any snowfall,” and those failing to do so would be subject to a $2.50 fine for the first offense and $5 for the second and each subsequent offense. Of course, $5 was worth a lot more 110 years ago.

The wording of the ordinance has not changed much over the years, but the fine sure has. Ron McIntyre, Washington’s code enforcement officer, said that those who do not clear their sidewalks within 12 hours of a snowfall are subject to a fine of up to $600 per day.

The city could have received a windfall if it aggressively enforced the ordinance in the past week, when traversing sidewalks around town was in many places treacherous.

Residents ought to consider not just the possible fines from their neglect, but also the legal liability of uncleared walks.

But beyond that, we should all be reminded that we do not live in cocoons but rather in communities. We have a civic responsibility to our neighbors to do our part to make those communities comfortable and safe.

Please, keep those sidewalks clear.



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