Elmira’s sidewalk snow-clearing program under review

The future of sidewalk snow clearing in Elmira may depend on a survey of residents as the township contemplates the fate of the service. The program has been the source of complaints since its inception in 2004, with residents pointing to slow service, poor clearing of snow and ice, and ripped up lawn edges. Now, with the current three-year contract expiring at the end of the season, Woolwich is looking at its options, including input from Elmira taxpayers, who are assessed a special-area levy to pay for clearing every sidewalk in town.

The township budgets $70,000 a year for the service, but the actual amount charged depends on the rolling surplus of funds in the account. Last year, for instance, some $46,000 was billed. The fund is in a surplus position again this year, thanks in part to the mild winter. That works out to about $12 for an average home with an assessed value of $254,000.

The weather has also lessened the number of complaints, but not eliminated them, as Mayor Todd Cowan noted at a Jan. 19 budget meeting. Many residents call him, upset about the service, he said, noting there are others who are happy to be relieved of shoveling their sidewalks. By law, residents everywhere else in the township have to clear their own walkways within 24 hours of a snowfall.

For Coun. Mark Bauman, that system may be just the tonic for Elmira. In discussing the matter, he asked tongue-in-cheek just how many complaints are heard from residents in other parts of the township. “It was sort of a leading question,” he joked, adding, however, that doing away with the service is a viable alternative.

“The do-nothing approach should always be an option.”

Coun. Allan Poffenroth, meanwhile, summed up the state of the service by noting when he goes for a walk every morning he uses the roads, as the sidewalks are usually still unsafe after a snowfall, even if they’ve been cleared, because snow and ice remain.

“I would not walk on the sidewalks – it’s safer on the road. You’re stupid to walk on them if you want to not break bones,” he said, offering a typically blunt assessment. It’s a sentiment not lost on director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley, who has to deal with the complaints.

“We’re certainly aware of the concerns that have been expressed by any number of people.”

If the township does opt to continue the service, he said more caution and detail will be needed in setting up the terms of future snow-clearing contracts. The complaints have been fairly constant no matter which outside company has been doing the work, meaning tighter controls are needed, he said. Over the years, the township has had issues with the types of equipment used, for instance, making that part of the deal.

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