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City: Get that shovel out after it snows

Officials warn of citations, safety hazards if snow is not removed

Jan. 25, 2012

City of Oconomowoc - If it's winter in Wisconsin, you're going to have snow. And, if there is going to be snow, homeowners have to deal with it.

As tempting as it may be to just hope the ice and snow will melt away on its own, there are repercussions to ignoring the situation.

Since the season's delayed snowfalls have kicked into gear, city officials are reminding residents of their responsibility to keep their sidewalks clear.

Failure to do so could result in a citation for violating city ordinance.

According to the municipal code, all ice and snow must be removed from the sidewalk 24 hours after the snow ceases to fall.

"So, if it's going to snow on and off for two days, it's when it stops completely," City of Oconomowoc Police Chief Dave Beguhn said.

Officers are not out on patrol seeking noncompliant homeowners, but rather responding to citizen reports, the chief said.

"When we do issue citations, it's after we have received a complaint," he explained.

"Sometimes it comes from people walking around in their neighborhoods, or around the lake. It's almost always complaint-driven," Beguhn added.

The chief said that contacting the homeowner in violation can sometimes take some time.

"We aren't privy to what houses that are up for sale, are occupied or not or it could be a case of a bank foreclosure," he said. Efforts are then made to call to Realtors to report the issue.

"Sometimes people no longer live there, but have made arrangements to have it shoveled," and they are unaware of the problem. If the property owner does not resolve the issue, the city can have the area cleared by the Department of Public Works.

Complaints have been few this season.

"Of course this is an odd weather year. We've had limited snowfall and are far behind our usual totals," he said.

To date only one ticket has been issued, compared to 26 last year for the entire season. "There's a big difference between last season and this season. Our season last year began in November," the chief pointed out.

Director of Public Works Mark Frye said last year four properties had to be cleared by Public Works personnel. He said the property owner is billed for the actual labor to do the work at $47.44 per hour. This cost would be in addition to any citations issued by the Police Department, Frye said.

A resident also questioned the city's responsibility shoveling the boardwalk behind City Hall. The resident complained the area was left snow-covered for days after a recent storm.

Frye explained that the boardwalk is an area the city does not clear because of its decking.

"We place barricades at the entrances but they usually end up getting knocked down or thrown out on to the ice. As with any wood-planked type decking, the boards do not have a level surface across them; they will either cup or crown. With this, we are unable to remove all of the snow by shoveling," Frye said. Further, he said the boardwalk is not constructed to allow for the city to use its mechanical sweeper to clear it.

Another important thing to remember when clearing your property of snow and ice is to make sure the nearest fire hydrant is visible and not inaccessible due to snow accumulation.

In a previous interview, Deputy Chief Glenn Leidel of the City of Oconomowoc Fire Department urged residents to be sure to dig out around the hydrants closest to their home. That effort helps firefighters connect equipment without experiencing a delay of valuable time. Accessibility to the fire hydrants is key in protecting lives and property.

"The more help we can get, the better. If everyone did the one or two closest to them, it would be a great help, because the longer it takes us, the longer it takes us," he said.

Beguhn said the city does shovel the hydrants out, but first priority is given to clearing the streets.

"We have had multiple snow storms in a short period of time and it's starting to pile up. If people could help by clearing the snow away from the hydrants, we would very much appreciate it," he added.

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