PHILMONT — Following residents’ complaints about snow shoveling fees, the Philmont Village Board split the $4 per lineal foot fine in half, raising questions about board communication.
The board voted March 24 to change the fines to $2 per linear foot. The square footage is determined by tax maps, Deputy Clerk and Treasurer Christine Speed said Thursday.
Fifty-two people were fined between two storms this season for not shoveling the sidewalk in front of their Philmont property, Speed said. The fines totaled $8,580.
The village board received half a dozen letters complaining about the $4 per linear foot fine and about a dozen residents complained at the February and March board meetings, Speed said.
Resident Tomoko Gurbo, in a statement, called the fees expensive and criticized the village for not notifying residents about the fine.
Property owners and residents share the responsibility to shovel the sidewalk in front of their buildings within 24 hours after the snowfall ends, according to Local Law No. 1 of 2017, which amended the village code. The board sets the fee schedule and the village should record the amount of labor, equipment and materials used in sidewalk snow removal.
The board approved a motion in January 2020 to make the fine $4 per linear foot, Speed said. The square footage is determined by the tax map for each parcel.
Board minutes are regularly posted for the public to see board decisions, she said.
While the $4 amount may not be evident to all residents, the responsibility to shovel sidewalks is clear, Speed said. The quarterly calendar January 2020 spells out the presence of fees, she said.
“It’s clearly spelled out there, it just doesn’t set the fee amount,” she said.
Signs in the village building tell residents about the shoveling responsibility, she said. She does not believe the law change was published in the paper.
Expecting the village to notify residents every time the law changes is “ignorance of the law,” Speed said. It would be impossible for municipalities to do so, she added.
“Some weren’t notified until they got their bill,” she said of the fine schedule. Those who don’t use Facebook, where the clerk’s office posts updates, or those who don’t visit the village website, where the Facebook posts and meeting minutes can be accessed, can be out of the loop.
A Dec. 18, 2020, post from the Philmont Clerk/Treasurer announces an extension of the shoveling rules, giving residents all weekend to clear sidewalks.
“The DPW will be out Monday morning clearing all sidewalks not cleared,” the post said. “At this point you will be billed the $4/lineal foot.”
There is no post about the shoveling fees for the February storm.
The village didn’t have a need to enforce the fines since the new fine was put in place until the Dec. 17, 2020 and Feb. 1, 2021, storms this season, Speed said. During these storms, people were dangerously walking in the streets. Prior to that, residents and property owners were good about keeping sidewalks clear.
“It was very, very unsafe,” she said.
Philmont is refunding people who have already paid for this season’s storms at the $4 rate to make up the difference.
Prior to the January 2020 fine schedule being set, the Department of Public Works and police department issued fines that appeared before the court, Speed said. She does not know what the fine schedule was. A former village judge was known to dismiss all the snow shoveling fines prior to the board’s January 2020 motion, she said.
Village Trustee Debra Gitterman pointed to communication issues within the village at the March 24 board meeting. She suggested the board send email announcements about the upcoming meetings.
Mayor-elect Brian Johnson pushed back against the need for emailed announcements, saying the information is already published.
But that is not the point, Gitterman said.
“Do whatever you want to do,” Johnson said to Gitterman. “No, I can’t do whatever I want to do,” Gitterman said. “We’re a board. I can only do what we all want to do.”
More issues could come from a lack of communication, such as snow removal fines, she said.
“Even if it’s legal, we’re not communicating in ways that people are receiving the information,” she said.
No matter how many avenues the board communicate information, people will complain they didn’t know, Village Trustee Douglas Cropper said.
“We do not need to defend ourselves against these people,” Cropper said.
Gitterman took issue with his wording. “Against ‘these people?’” she said. “These are the people you’re representing. We are working for them.”
Johnson said the discussion was wasting meeting time and told Gitterman to do what she wants about the emails.
“You either send it or you don’t send it,” Johnson said. “I don’t really care.”
The village will be using email announcements following Gitterman’s suggestion, Speed said Thursday.