The Athens City Code Office issued 210 warnings for failure to remove snow in 2014, highlighting a city law’s little-known consequences.
After snowfall, residents have four hours to clean their sidewalks, according to city code. If snow is not removed by this time frame a resident can face a minor misdemeanor charge, which comes with a fine up to $150. But actual citations are rare, Code Director John Paszke said. Most residents just receive warnings.
“We issue a warning, then do a subsequent follow up the next day,” Paszke said in an email. “If (it’s) not shoveled by then, we forward it to the law director’s office for a court summons.”
“It’s actually a criminal offense,” Law Director Lisa Eliason said. “You actually go into court on this. You have an arraignment and everything.”
In early February, two people were cited for not removing snow after a storm, and each paid their citation, Eliason said.
Though the city issued more than 200 warnings last year, this number can change drastically from year to year; for example, in 2012, code enforcement officials handed out 33 warnings.
In 2015, the code office issued 45 warnings before Ohio University’s spring break, Paszke said.
Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said the fine for the offense is high because clear sidewalks are a matter of pedestrian safety.
“It can be very dangerous,” Papai said. “It’s a health and safety issue.”
Though the city helps with clearing some sidewalks, Papai said efforts are mostly focused on routes to schools.
Residents and business owners are expected to take care of their own section of pavement.
“The city is responsible for sidewalks as well as you are,” Papai said. “It’s for the protection of citizens on your property.”
Papai said sometimes people might want to file lawsuits against property owners or the city after taking a tumble on sidewalks.
No such lawsuits have been filed in recent years, according an Athens City Municipal Court official.
Papai said she did notice that not all residences or businesses clear their sidewalks on the weekends, but she wasn’t sure why.
“You’d think business owners would not want anyone falling down,” Papai said.
When a business fails to shovel or salt their sidewalks, she said, an official from the city would often go and talk to the business.
Regardless, the code office has reinvigorated its “effort to be out there and encourage people to clear their sidewalks,” Papai said.