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Hamilton slips up on sidewalk shoveling

Hamilton takes care of its roads, trims its own trees, plants flowers on its boulevards and cuts the grass on municipality-owned medians. So why doesn’t city take care of its sidewalks?

During what has been a severe winter, snow and ice-covered sidewalks have become as much of a problem as downed trees and burst pipes. Yet Hamilton, except for those in Ancaster, force residents to do the work city staff should be doing. And in the process, if homeowners, especially the elderly and physically challenged, are unable to clean sidewalks in front of their homes, fees are imposed and the city can levy a $5,000 fine on the homeowners’ next tax bill. The work becomes even more onerous when snow plows drive snow, ice and slush back onto already cleared sidewalks and driveways.

Adding to the city’s shell game of who does what, the city, not the residents, is legally responsible for clearing sidewalks since it is the property of municipality. According to a 2000 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, the snow and ice on sidewalks “are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the property owner,” regardless of local fines or bylaws.

Whenever the question of getting the city to start clearing its sidewalks is proposed, politicians and taxpayers hem and haw about the cost, even though in Ancaster residents pay an additional $4 per year to have the service provided. Yet, there remains resentment against Ancaster homeowners for receiving the service from the rest of the city.

Council did debate providing citywide sidewalk clearing back in 2008, but politicians balked at the estimated $3 million cost.

Yet, councillors and taxpayers have no problem shelling out money to have their trees trimmed, median grass cut or for that matter money to hire consultants about how to market the city.

And following along the same city-based logic, would residents shovel the street in front of their homes, or remove a tree on city property demanded by the municipality because it can’t afford it?  Hamiltonians should be able to receive some services for their hard-earned tax money.

Why removing snow from sidewalks is more expensive and complicated in Hamilton remains somewhat of a mystery. Winnipeg — known for getting a few snow storms during the season — manages to keep its sidewalks clear of snow for about $2 million a year, or about $7 per household. Other municipalities, such as Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton and much of Toronto somehow find the wherewithal to provide a valuable service to their taxpayers.

Councillors, recognizing the municipality does have a responsibility to its residents, have attempted to mitigate the snow clearing of sidewalks by helping to fund the Snow Angels program, jointly operated by Volunteer Hamilton to the tune of $100,000 a year. The problem is this year is there is a greater need than volunteers available.

Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead has been investigating whether the city can train volunteers to clear snow-covered sidewalks with city equipment. But even if it is approved, the city is still downloading its responsibility for the safety of pedestrians on to its citizens.

Is that a gamble the city should be taking for the sake of $4 a year?

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