Call them a bunch of snow angels.
City commissioners want city residents to know that clearing sidewalks of snow in a timely manner is an important neighborly act, but a majority of commissioners and staff showed little interest Tuesday in adding any teeth to the city's existing snow shoveling ordinance.
"I have to tell you that I think it is very unlikely that we're ever going to prosecute anyone under this ordinance," City Manager David Corliss told commissioners.
Corliss said the city likely wouldn't have the staff time to prosecute people under the ordinance, which has been on the city's books for several years. Under the current ordinance, the fine is up to $20, but residents are given five days following the end of a snowfall to clear the sidewalk before the case is turned over to Municipal Court for prosecution. Usually, Mother Nature takes care of the snow by then.
Staff members in the city's Neighborhood Resources Department said they do get complaints about the leniency of the ordinance, and compiled information that showed other communities often have higher fines. Some cities also have provisions that allow the city to contract to have the snow removed from a sidewalk, and then bill the property owner for the charges.
At Tuesday's weekly meeting, however, that idea failed to gain support from a majority of commissioners. Instead, commissioners told staff to look into the idea of tightening the amount of time residents have to clean their sidewalks. One proposal was to eliminate the five-day waiting period and instead allow residents to be "cited" for violating the ordinance within 24 to 48 hours following the end of a snowfall. The process still would be largely complaint-driven, but instead of mailing letters to violators, city inspectors would begin using door hangers to notify people of the ordinance provisions.
Bill Mitchell, a Lawrence resident who attended the meeting, told commissioners they either needed to toughen the ordinance significantly or scrap it all together.
"Legislating neighborliness is usually doomed for failure," Mitchell said.
Commissioner Boog Highberger was the lone commissioner who expressed any interest in higher fines. City Commissioner Mike Dever said he wanted to at least explore the idea of allowing the city to remove the snow and bill property owners.
"If we're just sending letters out and not accomplishing anything, that seems silly," Dever said.
Other commissioners, however, questioned whether the city had the staff time to handle the administrative matters related to contracting for snow removal and then billing residents. They also said notifying people that they were in violation of the ordinance, even though they likely would not get fined, was one way to provide public education on the need to shovel sidewalks.
Commissioners also largely threw up their hands on the issue of how to address concerns about snow plows covering up recently shoveled sidewalks. They said that is a frequent complaint, but said there appeared to be no easy answers.