Spokane Valley could begin imposing fines this snow season for residents who don’t shovel their sidewalks.
The City Council passed an ordinance last month requiring residents to clear snow and ice from their sidewalk within 48 hours if accumulation is three inches or more, or face a $52 fine.
That same fine could be reissued if noncompliance continues for another 48 hours. A third citation within 12 months would increase the fine to $103.
The city mailed out 7,000 notices last week notifying residents about the new regulations, which would apply to commercially-zoned areas along major arterials and safe routes to school.
The council has discussed snow removal options for more than two years. Previously, there was no penalty for residents failing to remove snow from sidewalks.
However, the city had problems keeping safe routes to school clear, as well as areas of heavy pedestrian traffic, Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said.
“The city has an obligation to keep its streets safe,” he said.
Higgins said the city will implement an educational program that notifies residents of their responsibilities for snow removal and expectations from the city.
While there has been some pushback from residents who are unhappy with the new ordinance, the city concluded that snow removal is still the homeowner’s responsibility, he said.
“I think we’re being reasonable,” Higgins said. “If the snow is accumulative – one snowstorm after another – we have some leeway here to give folks a chance to dig out from under it.” Spokane Valley’s city manager can suspend the ordinance if there’s an accumulative amount of snowfall in a short time period.
Also, to ease the burden of snow accumulation on sidewalks, the city is removing “bat-wing blades” from four plow trucks and replacing them with flat blades, designed to reduce the distance snow is thrown from the plow truck. Additionally, snow plows will be reducing speeds while plowing roads. That, in turn, could increase the time required to clear roadways, however.
Councilmember Ed Pace said he was all for changing those procedures, which he said should make snow removal easier.
“The goal is not to throw as much snow on the sidewalk from the snow plow,” he said. “When the snow plow comes along, it piles (the snow) high and it’s hard to clear.”
One concern voiced over the ordinance is how it will affect residents who physically can’t shovel snow, and how they might resolve a citation if incurred, said Bill Kane, executive director for the Spokane Center for Independent Living.
Kane said individuals with disabilities and the elderly want to be part of the community and follow the rules, but due to health concerns, it may not possible.
Kane thinks there should be a registry of individuals who have difficulty shoveling, so the city knows ahead of time.
The city will electronically keep track of properties where defenses have been claimed and proven, so that vulnerable residents are not repeatedly targeted with citations, Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell said in an email.
“We intend to still contact those residents though to see if we can help them figure out how to come into compliance, or to determine whether the occupant who qualified for the defense is still in residence there,” he said.
If senior citizens 65 and older and residents with a physical disability are cited for noncompliance, they can dispute it by providing verification, such as a note from a medical professional, or it may be verified when the code compliance officer does a site visit to contact the homeowner about snow conditions, he said.
The city is working on building up a reference bank of contacts that residents can call for help clearing sidewalks, Higgins said.
Sister Banks at the Washington Spokane Mission Office – which is listed as a resource for snow removal by the city – said residents who are physically unable to remove sidewalk snow can call their office for help.
“They would get help within 48 hours,” she said. “Most of the requests are done that day or first thing the next morning, depending on when we get the request.”