CHATHAM–The Village of Chatham has had a law since 1989 requiring property owners to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of their properties within 24 hours after a storm. It hasn’t been enforced in recent years and possibly never was–until last month.
Starting February 9 of this year the village mailed notices to 70 residents saying that because they had not cleared their sidewalks by the deadline following a storm the week before they were being charged for having the village clear the walk. Amounts varied from at least $75 (I received one for this amount) to $110 for a single clearing. The notice said payment was due in 30 days, adding, “If payment is not received, we will re-levy this amount to your taxes.”
“We got a lot of complaints,” Chatham Mayor Tom Curran told village residents who filled the seats at the Village Board meeting March 8, the evening before the payment deadline. “I feel like we could have done it better,” said the mayor, who apologized for the way the process was handled.
There are about 400 people in the village who have sidewalks that require clearing under the law, Village Clerk Debra Meyers said this week.
Village resident Melony Spock told the board, “I think you need more clarity” in how the law is applied. She and several others reminded the board that residents clear their walks but as the village continues to plow the streets more snow is pushed back onto sidewalks. She said, “You’re clearing off your sidewalk two or three times.”
Ms. Spock described an elderly woman so worried about the sidewalk penalty that she went outside during the March 7 storm to shovel her sidewalk while steadying herself with her cane.
Making the situation more complicated, the state is responsible for clearing several of the major streets in the village: Route 66 (Main Street/Hudson Avenue/Center Street), Route 295 (Railroad Avenue/Spring Street) and Route 203 (Church and Coleman streets). The village does not control when the state plows.
Mike Blasl, whose Funeral Home and his home are on Railroad Avenue, said that since the state reduced the space between his street and the sidewalk several years ago, when snow falls and the plows push it onto his sidewalk, “There’s nowhere to put it.”
Girdhari Lal, owner of the CITGO gas station on the corner of the Routes 66 and 203, suggested the village charge a “flat rate” for the work and clear all sidewalks. His business was billed $110 each for two different snowfalls.
Mayor Curran said he has begun an effort to calculate the cost of having the village clear the sidewalks. “It would mean an increase in taxes,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it would be practical to do all the sidewalks all the time.”
The mayor said the board will form a committee to consider how to keep the sidewalks clear and the board will adopt new rates. He encouraged the public to volunteer for the committee.
Board member Jay Rippel said that he had driven around the village after the March 7 snowstorm and saw sidewalks that looked much clearer than in the past. “Something worked,” he said.
Following the discussion the board unanimously approved a resolution offered by Mayor Curran to waive all the sidewalk clearing fees and reimburse all those residents who had already paid the fees.
“We’re not going to be fining people until we have new rates,” the mayor said.
Later in the meeting the board recognized Chatham Police Officer Joseph Favorito, who stopped when he saw the woman with the cane. Officer Favorito finished shoveling her walk.
Letters went out this week to people who had receive fee notices confirming that all fees would be waived, payments returned and that the board would “revisit” the local law.