A program the city has been touting to match volunteers with residents who are physically unable to shovel their sidewalks has been unable to keep up with a record level of requests.
About 30 people who have requested a volunteer snow-shoveler through the program have not been accommodated, said Matthew Leiste, who administers the program for Douglas County Senior Services.
“We have people calling us from all over town,” Leiste said.
A total of 60 people have signed up for assistance through the program, which is about 40 people more than normal, Leiste said. This year’s number likely would be higher, but Douglas County Senior Services stopped accepting new requests last Tuesday after it became clear that there already were more people needing help than there were volunteers.
That situation has City Commissioner Aron Cromwell concerned about the fairness of the city’s recently-strengthened snow-shoveling ordinance. The ordinance requires people to have public sidewalks on their property cleared of snow within 48 hours after a snowfall or else face fines and fees of $72 per violation.
“It would be horribly hypocritical of us to say everybody has to shovel, and then not have a vibrant program in place for people who really shouldn’t be out there shoveling,” Cromwell said.
Cromwell said he also wants to take steps to ensure that people who have signed up for the service but haven’t received it aren’t given a ticket under the city’s ordinance.
“It would be really, really cruel to give those folks a ticket,” Cromwell said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the city has been ticketing individuals who fall into that category.
The program — called Safe Winter Walkways — is designed to help the elderly and others with physical issues that make it difficult for them to shovel their own sidewalks, and also don’t have the financial means to hire the job done.
Although the program is not accepting new requests for service, it is still accepting new volunteers. People can volunteer by calling Leiste at 842-0543.
Cromwell said that after he heard about the shortage, he signed up himself and his son to serve as volunteers in the program.
“I just want everybody to realize that there is a huge need out there,” Cromwell said. “We need more volunteers before the next snow.”
Leiste said his office is trying do several public presentations about the program to increase awareness, and also is approaching several civic groups about volunteering as part of a group project.