Shoveling sidewalk

A woman shovels her sidewalk after an October 2016 snowstorm in Helena.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

The Helena City Commission will meet Monday to finalize a revision to its regulation on community decay, but it could also signal interest in striking a requirement for signed complaints that would affect its rule on clearing sidewalks of snow and ice.

The 6 p.m. meeting is held in the commission chambers on the third floor of the City-County Building.

Removal of the requirement that community decay complaints be signed is proposed by Commissioner Andres Haladay.

If the ordinance is amended to remove the requirement for signed complaints the city would be moving away from that requirement for snow removal complaints, Mayor Jim Smith said.

George McCauley, a member of the city’s advisory panel that receives complaints regarding accessibility under the federal Americans with Disability Act, has been a vocal opponent of the requirement for signed complaints for sidewalks not cleared of snow and ice.

City Manager Ron Alles said having signed community decay complaints allows city staff to communicate with those who have noted their concern.

Although the city doesn’t patrol to look for sidewalks that haven’t been cleared of snow and ice, the city takes notice of other sidewalks that are visible and covered with snow, Alles said.

Commissioner Robert Farris-Olsen supported Haladay’s proposal and said “I think it will be more effective if it’s anonymous.”

Ultimately it’s the city’s responsibility to ensure that there are clear pathways for pedestrians, he added of the city’s snow removal regulation.

Commissioner Dan Ellison said he saw Farris-Olsen’s point but said he had mixed feelings because anonymous complaints can be prompted by disputes between neighbors.

He said he hadn’t yet come to a decision on removing the requirement for signed complaints.

Haladay explained McCauley’s concerns that requiring signed complaints creates angst among neighbors and those who complain will become ostracized.

Helena’s regulation on clearing sidewalks of snow and ice was modified in 2015 to allow the city to act if property owners didn’t.

The owners of residential properties have 24 hours to clear or sand their sidewalks after snow stops falling.

Business owners in the B-2 and B-3 districts have less time and can be required to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice within four hours after snow stops falling.

This past winter was the snowiest for Helena in 25 years, according to the National Weather Service.

According to data on citizen complaints regarding snow and sidewalks, the city had 35 snow events from December 2016 through March of this year. With the snow came 165 complaints regarding 208 locations.

McCauley’s concern with icy sidewalks prompted him to email the commission on Feb. 9.

He wrote to say that 1½ years of work went into revising the sidewalk ordinance. He also included many of the 129 photos he took of properties within a 20 minute walk of his home where snow had not been removed from sidewalks.

“Early on in the discussions about revamping our policy I and others strongly suggested that the new policy be one of citywide code enforcement as opposed to the ineffective complaint driven method.”

“The current complaint driven process makes our citizens police officers and most of us just will not turn in our friends, that process should be borne by the city,” McCauley’s email continued.

“Most of the discussions I have had with people about the process came to the same conclusion – people do not want to be charged with policing. I submit that the current process does not result in compliance and we need additional help with identifying violators and enforcement.”

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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