Syracuse Common Council proposes fines for unshoveled sidewalks

Feb 7, 2014

The snowiest city in America is debating whether to make property owners pay fines if they don’t clear the snow from their sidewalks and parking lots. Syracuse common councilors will vote Monday on whether the city should impose a fine on property owners who don’t shovel their sidewalks.  

District Councilor Bob Dougherty is the lawmaker behind the proposal. He lives near several schools in Syracuse’s Valley Neighborhood, and says it’s a matter of safety.

"I routinely see kids having to walk the streets because of unshoveled sidewalks," Dougherty said. "Also because of corners where the snow has been plowed up in the corners to make them impassable.”

Property owners would be fined $100 if they don’t shovel walks by six p.m. the day following a storm. It would also apply to snow plowed into sidewalks.

Dougherty says community policing officers would keep tabs on snow clogged sidewalks.

“The good thing about these community policing officers is that they work in quadrants, so they know if somebody is not doing this and had been repeatedly been warned to do it," Dougherty explained. "And somebody might get a ticket. What I’m looking for is compliance. We’re not going to raise any money from this. Let’s just get the sidewalks cleared.”

There isn’t unanimous support for the issue. Councilor Kathleen Joy says she’ll vote against the proposal, noting homeowners are already required to clear their walks.

“Let’s get it done," Joy said. "Let’s help our neighbors. Let’s be creative about that to get the sidewalks cleared to help people who walk all the time. Whether it’s downtown or in our neighborhood, you need to do that. But is assessing a $100 fine the way to do that? I don’t think so.”  

Joy says one of the biggest problems is snow covered city property, and went back a couple of years to when a similar proposal was on the table. She says at that time lawmakers wanted to know if city departments had a plan for keeping sidewalks and parking lots cleared.

“We never got that plan, we still don’t have that plan," Joy said. "So I don’t think it’s fair for the community to have a penalty assessed when the city won’t follow its own guidelines.”

Dougherty doesn’t want concerns about why the city itself has a hard time clearing sidewalks, to delay the issue.

“Some of my colleagues were hoping I’d hold this so we get answers about specifically the city properties, and how they are going to be cleared," he said. "And I’m all for that, however, I think this should move forward and in concert with that. We can talk to different city agencies about how they clear sidewalks and their plan.”

Dougherty admits that seeing a policy for the city is a good idea, but he wants to plow ahead with his proposal.  And he hopes that if nothing else, the publicity surrounding it will force property owners to realize that they have a responsibility to clear sidewalks.