Pittsfield Panel Looks to Improve Snow Removal Compliance
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With winter just a couple of months away, the city is looking to improve snow removal on its sidewalks.
The Ordinances and Rules subcommittee on Monday discussed updating the snow and ice removal process. Proposed changes include increasing the number of inspectors from one to five for better enforcement and allowing only one warning per calendar year.
The petition was referred to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta and will be taken up at the panel's November meeting.
This was originally brought forward by Councilor at Large Earl Persip III early in the year and referred to Director of Public Health Andy Cambi.
"This has been an ongoing issue, as some of you well know, in the city of Pittsfield since I've been on the council. I've been getting phone calls with people in neighborhoods really not cleaning off their streets. I know we have an older population and they struggled sometimes to get those sidewalks clear. But also that same population is the one that uses the sidewalks to get daily walks to explore their neighborhoods," Persip explained.
"It's a big issue with kids going to school. I know throughout my travels through the morning, and I'm sure you see these travels also, children having to walk in the road or walk in uncovered sidewalks. I think as a resident it's your responsibility to clean your sidewalk in a timely fashion, 24 hours after the snow stops is, I think, a very good time so that's what started this petition."
Cambi's plan includes performing sidewalk inspections within 24 hours of at least 2 inches of snow or ice accumulation, posting an initial violation notice for noncompliance, and revisiting within 24 hours to continue enforcement if necessary.
Main areas of focus include sidewalks adjacent to commercial establishments, within 1.5 miles of a school, abutting public gathering places, and along residential streets in response to public complaints via the Pittsmart app.
In early December, the city would send out public service announcements on businesses and residents' responsibilities for snow and ice removal. Cambi added that he will also be sending an email reminder to the city's non-owner occupied list.
The city's current fine schedule includes a warning as a first offense, a $25 second offense, a $50 third offense, and a $100 fourth offense. Each 24-hour period during which a violation exists constitutes a separate offense.
The panel voted to add "and subsequent" to the fourth offense because as the ordinance stood, there was no language for a further offense and fines ended at the fourth.
"Pretty much what the sidewalk plan (for) snow removal is an overview of how I can coordinate with our inspectors to address this citywide. Before he was under a nuisance control officer. To address the sidewalks. And I think that was a lot of taking for one inspector," Cambi explained.
"So just coming together with all the inspectors to designate areas of the city to start targeting after a storm that was kind of the big plan that shifted from our sidewalk ordinance reviews for that."
He requested an automatic fine for the first violation but the councilors were not ready to adopt it due to fears of the financial burden for residents. This would make the first offense $25, the second $50, the third $100, and the fourth $300.
"I would really like to see a warning stay at least for this first year of it," Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi said.
"For some residents, this is going to be a big shock. I know this is a problem that we're trying to get ahead of and we have been for a while but for some of them I just can't foresee going right to the $25 and then thinking of how a big storm can impact a household, how quickly that can escalate for them."
Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren supports keeping the warning past the first year.
"I think we need to warn people and I think the first year, the second year, third year, I think there has to be warnings out there and I couldn't see us going up to $300 for any offense on this type of thing. I would think that's too draconian," he said.
"So I will be supporting the current fee structure. I think the aggressive enforcement by having more people out there and more people speaking to people and then email blasts and everything else, I think that will be a very good step but to increase the monies and take out a warning I don't think is going to help us that much."
Persip was not 100 percent against keeping the warning but defended eliminating it.
"Everyone clears their sidewalk for the most part, right? The majority. These are repeat offenders every year. It's the same businesses, the same households, and the ones that I'm dealing with, I think a warning — the ordinance has been in effect for many years — we have a warning, if you look at the material, there's education that the health department's going to do that serves as the warning. I mean, we have an ordinance," he said.
"We have sidewalks that are unpassable. You have children walking in streets to get the school multiple days. It's 24 hours after the storm stops so it should give people plenty of time to clear their sidewalk. It drives me crazy when I watch children walking to school and it's two days after a snowstorm and the sidewalks are unpassable. We shouldn't live in a city where the sidewalks are impassable, especially for the elderly."
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey had concerns with the fine structure being too steep and made a couple of suggestions to alleviate that, such as the fee cycle resetting to $25 after the fourth offense.
The councilors also voted to add the Health Department as an enforcement authority. The chief of police was the original designee.
Tags: snow removal,