Our new Thorold City Council met last night and one of the longest discussions concerned the delegation of a gentleman who came to ask Council to reinstate the by-law requiring everyone to clear their section of sidewalk following a snowfall.
We already have one of those, don’t we? Well, no we don’t, although we used to. It was removed in 1998, based on a legal opinion concerning liability if the City had a by-law they didn’t enforce and of the City not clearing the sidewalk sections in front of their own properties.
This delegation caused a great deal of discussion due to the many considerations sparked by the request, since it isn’t quite as easy a question as one might think. There are a number of ramifications to reinstating the by-law: legal, seniors/disabled, equipment, manpower, and the AODA ( the law that sets accessibility standards in Ontario.)
The legal problem is liability, since it has become the number one concern to just about everyone in our relatively recently lawsuit-happy society.
The equipment and manpower problems have to do with cleaning the sidewalks along City property, since municipalities apparently can’t be exempt from their own by-laws (plus it looks bad). They now have one machine for this, and it has just started to clear the sidewalks on Class 3 roadways (the busy ones). To target City stretches would require shunting the machine all around town to six miles of sometimes quite short disconnected road sections, requiring a dedicated vehicle to do the shunting.
The City thinks they would need to buy equipment and possibly hire more staff. They could save on the equipment cost by having the staff use shovels or snow blowers, but that would require even more staff. They could contract it out but that, too, would cost the City, and taxpayers, money.
Then there are the weekends. Overtime: need I say more?
We could say just forget it. Walk through the snow. But some people can’t walk through the snow and municipalities in Ontario are now legislated to care through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The City simply isn’t allowed to ignore people with disabilities.
But let’s just forget the City’s portions for a moment.
On the residents’ side of things, there is a concern that not everyone will be physically able to shovel their sidewalk. It would seem that, in some municipalities, it’s possible to obtain a pass by applying for it. And how does the municipality determine eligibility, a doctor’s certificate? If there’s a charge for this pass, would that be considered a tax on disability?
Let’s say the pass is fine, but then who shovels that patch of sidewalk? The City? That brings us back to City costs. Then there is a suggestion that students have to do it as part of their public service, the problem being of course, that students have rights.
The City of Thorold could clear all the sidewalks like Grimsby. In that regard, I refer you to paragraphs five through seven – in spades.
There is another possibility, one that would prevent both the need for a by-law and the cost of the City ploughing all the sidewalks. Next time it snows, within the next day, we should get off our butts and go out and shovel our sidewalks. And if we know of a neighbour who can’t do it (and whose kids can’t do it), help him/her out.
But if a sense of civic or social duty won’t do it, we can think of it this way: it could save us money. If we figure out a way, the AODA may well force us to spend tax money to clear the sidewalks.