Village sidewalk policy makes for slippery slope

CHATHAM–The Village Board tabled a discussion on changing the $75 fine faced by property owners who do not remove snow on their sidewalks. At a meeting Monday, December 9 Mayor John Howe said it was a long-standing issue in the village and that he didn’t want to rescind the current resolution the board passed over five years ago setting a fee billed to property owners if the village’s Department of Public Works clears their sidewalk. He asked that board members do more research before making any changes.

“I don’t agree with this” he said of the fee but he said that if the board rescinds the resolution, the village would “have nothing.”

At the meeting Mayor Howe also commended the village DPW staff for their efforts during the major snowstorm earlier this month. The mayor declared a snow emergency during the storm, which meant, according to the declaration, “there will be no parking from 12:00 p.m. Sunday, December 1, until 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 3 on Kinderhook Street; Woodbridge Avenue; Cemetery Hill Road; Library Place; and Locust Street.”

As for the sidewalks, according to the village code, property owners are responsible for clearing the sidewalks adjacent to their property within 24 hours after the last snow “deposit,” according to Phil Genovese from the DPW. The code does not set an amount that the village can charge property owners if the DPW clears the snow but says the village can recoup the costs of the labor, equipment and administrative costs for removing the snow.

In 2014 the Village Board at the time passed a motion to set a fee for snow removal on sidewalks of $75 for first 100 feet and $35 for every additional foot, if the resident did not clear the snow within 24 hours after a storm. Residents would receive a bill or the amount would be placed on the property owner’s tax bill.

At Monday’s meeting the board discussed rescinding the resolution that set the $75 not the code saying that the snow would have to be removed.

Mayor Howe stressed that the amount should not be “a clean-up fee” but a fine. Village Attorney Ken Dow talked about a fine being punitive and that in some municipalities, property owners have to go to court to pay the fines. He said that a fine is different from an administrative fee charged to the property owner and that the code says the village can charge for the cost of the service.

The board and Mr. Genovese discussed whether, if the fine is too low, people would use the village as a service to clear the sidewalks. Trustee Lenore Packet suggested the village look into the cost to have the DPW clear sidewalks after a storm. Ms. Packet also pointed out that she and all of the other board members except one do not have sidewalks in front of their houses, so they do not have to deal with removing snow.

Resident and property owner Stephen Piazza said that he had to call the village to complain about a neighbor not clearing the sidewalk after this last storm. He said the fine should be $400 or $500 to give people the incentive to clear their sidewalks.

Trustee Jaimee Boehme, who is the commissioner for streets and snow removal, said that residents should get a letter of warning the first time. The mayor asked Ms. Boehme and Ms. Packet to look into the issue further.

Also at the meeting:

• The board voted to rescind the $50 shutoff notice fee for residents whose water is going to be shut off due to unpaid bills. Residents will still receive the notice but will not have to pay the fee. The village still has a $25 shutoff fee and a $25 fee to have the water turned on again. Mayor Howe also said he wanted to discuss changing the late fee on water and sewer bills from 10% to 2%. The board would have to hold a public hearing to change the local law on the late fee

• The board plans to sign a contract, pending Mr. Dow’s review, with the State Police to take over dispatch services for the village. Currently the village police work with the County Sheriff’s Office for dispatch. Captain David W. Kolb, the State Police Zone 1 commander, explained at the meeting that the only things that would change are the Chatham police car numbers. Captain Kolb said in a true emergency a village resident should call 911 and the county 911 dispatcher will send the closest car whether it’s village, state or county sheriff’s. But in a situation where someone calls the 10 digit number for the village police, and the village police are not available, that call will go to the state troopers.

Captain Kolb and Mayor Howe pointed out that the state police will soon have a barracks a mile and half away from the village in the Town of Chatham on Route 295. Captain Kolb said the State Police contracts with other small police departments. “It would give us a lot more resources,” said Village Police Chief Peter Volkmann of working with the State Police.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said village Trustee Pete Minahan, who serves as police commissioner for the village

• Chief Volkmann also reported that Deputy Chief Joe Alessi is attending a police comfort K9 training, which he is paying for and training his own dog. Once trained, the dog can be used by the village police as a comfort dog. Mayor Howe said that the board had “some questions” about that, and that he and Mr. Minahan talked to both Deputy Chief Alessi and Mr. Dow.

Chief Volkmann stressed that the dog is owned by Mr. Alessi and that he village can use the services or not, but there was no cost of the village

• The Chatham Fire Department is hosting its monthly fundraising breakfasts now through the spring. The next breakfast at the fire house will be January 12.

Trustee Melony Spock, the fire commissioner, read in the Fire Department report that the fire companies voted to hire a grant writer to work on a grant for equipment.

The next Village Board meeting will be Monday, January 7 at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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