October 21, 2021

City cracks down on snow removal

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A Port Watson sidewalk from a Dec. 2019 file photo

Have you shoveled the sidewalk outside your house? If not, and you own the property in Cortland, you’d better get cracking. Otherwise you may discover a citation on your door.

It’s not going to be a warning, either. If it’s your first offense, you’re looking at a $25 fine.

The Cortland Common Council on Tuesday voted, 7-0, with William Carpenter (D-6th Ward) absent, to empower the city code enforcement office to get more aggressive in busting property owners who don’t shovel their sidewalks. This change isn’t happening at some point in the future: It started this morning.

The vote does not change city law, but marks a change in “internal protocol,” said Richard VanDonsel, the city’s attorney.

In the past, the city would inform violators by mailing a citation by certified mail. By the time the city took action, as much as two weeks could have passed, said Capt. Michael TenKate, the city’s interim code enforcement officer. That’s just not fast enough, he told the council Tuesday.

“We’re trying to close that lag time as much as we can,” TenKate said.

Here’s how it will work. Say it snows on Monday. According to city law, you have until 6 p.m. the following day — Tuesday — to clear your sidewalk. On Wednesday, the code officers will be on the lookout. If you haven’t cleared your sidewalk, they’ll tape a citation to your door.

During snowstorms that span several days, you’re required to shovel your sidewalk every 24 hours.

The fines escalate after the first $25 citation. But the fees really start racking up if you don’t shovel your sidewalk within 24 hours after getting a citation. Because if you don’t do it yourself, the city will have their guy do it, then send you the bill — with a $25 administrative fee tacked on. Ignore them at your peril: If you don’t pay these fines and fees, they get added to your property tax bill.

Snow-clearing fines

Fines for not shoveling your sidewalk can add up. This is the fine schedule for violations in a 24-month period:

First offense: $25.
Second offense: $25.
Third offense: $75.
Fourth offense: $125.
Fifth offense and beyond: $250.

TenKate said he thinks the new aggressive approach will make a visible and immediate difference on sidewalk clearance after snowstorms.

“As a property owner, it’s your job to know when it snows,” he said.

And if you’re not in the habit of caring about that, the citation on your door may catch your attention.