Focus changes for snow removal task force

FORT WANE, Ind. (WANE) – The Fort Wayne City Councilmen on the snow removal task force decided Thursday that making residents keep sidewalks around schools clear from snow would be too hard to enforce right now.

The “snowmen,” as Councilman Russ Jehl (R-District 2) jokingly called the group, met two weeks ago to come up with solutions for snowy sidewalks.  The two main areas of concern then were around schools where children were forced to walk in the street because the sidewalks were full of snow and snow piled in handicapped parking spots.

“We’re looking at crafting some language dealing with handicapped spaces. Maybe we can do something with that,” Councilman Tom Smith (R-1st District) said.

The current city ordinance requires people responsible for a property to have the sidewalk cleared from ice and snow by 9 a.m. and keep it clean throughout the day. Violators can face a daily fine of up to $2,500. That law was last revised in 1974. It’s also not enforced.

“I don’t want to force someone who’s elderly or disabled to get up in the morning and plow snow. That’s not the intention of this and that’s the law written 40 years ago,” Councilman Geoff Paddock (D-5th District) said.

The “Right-of-Way” Department  is technically in charge of citing people for not shoveling their sidewalks. The councilmen thought Neighborhood Code would be a better department to have that jurisdiction, but citations and fines would still be a hassle.

“I don’t want to create ‘whatever city department’ to be the new snow police. I don’t want to do that, they don’t want to do that. We will work with neighborhoods on a voluntary basis to figure out how we can help them get more people shoveling their walks,” Smith said.

Fines are difficult to collect, the councilmen added. The enforcement would also be complaint-driven and reports of violations would have to go through a neighborhood association before going to the city. Ultimately, the task force said enforcement of mandating people keep sidewalks around schools snow-free is “insurmountable” right now.

“The enforcement mechanism is very difficult. That’s regulated by the state and, without going into too much legalese, we just have limitations on our ability to enforce certain ordinances and sidewalk ordinances are one of the hardest to enforce,” Jehl said. “Now we are looking at what we can do downtown to keep it a walkable place. If that goes well then maybe we can begin again branching out and see what we can do to improve actual enforcement around schools, because that’s where the passion is. How do we take the chaos of snow and get people to be neighborly, especially if they’re close to schools. They do have a responsibility to children walking by and making sure they aren’t having to go through the streets.”

Now, the task force wants to first focus efforts in downtown Fort Wayne.

“Helping downtown wouldn’t be a law. We’d work with the Downtown Improvement District and maybe give them some equipment,” Smith said.

Another goal is to send surveys to the neighborhood associations to get feedback on several city services, including snow removal.

“Improving communication with neighborhood associations is definitely something that seems to be needed and will improve city services,” Jehl said. “

Paddock said a lot of it comes down to common sense.

“We want to urge neighborhood associations to help us. It’s a message … to do a good job and be a good neighbor,” Paddock said.

Councilmen Marty Bender (R-At Large) and John Shoaff (D-At Large) are also on the task force, but were not at Tuesday’s meeting. Anything proposed by the task force would still have to pass the full city council.

The task force will meet again on April 6 at 9 a.m. in room 30 in the lower level of Citizens Square. It’s open to the public.

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