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Councilmen ask Janesville to get tough on snowy sidewalks

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 15, 2009
— Two council members want the city to move quicker to clear unshoveled residential sidewalks.

And they suggested that private contractors do the work.


City staff blamed the delay in shoveling sidewalks after complaints on the city’s notification system, which can sometimes cause a week or more delay.


The discussion occurred during a recent budget study session.


Council member Frank Perrotto said he’s heard many complaints about residents who don’t shovel their walks after a snowstorm, and he expects that to get worse this year because of the many vacant houses in the city.


Council member Bill Truman agreed.


Said Perrotto: “I think that we should have a stronger enforcement on the course of action we’re going to take and a clearer direction as to what we’re going to do when those complaints come in.”


The current process is “unacceptable.” When people don’t shovel, the snow turns into ice and people fall on the ice.”


John Whitcomb, operations director, said many of the complaints arise because of the city’s notification policy, which the city uses to alert delinquent lawn mowers, as well.


Policy requires that the city send notices to violators, who then have three days to comply. The property must then be inspected by the city.


That can take a week or sometimes longer, especially when staff is short during heavy snow seasons, Whitcomb said. During that time, even more snow could fall.


“I think it’s the notification process that really hampers the process,” Whitcomb said.


The alternative is to do away with the notification process. In some cities, for instance, workers respond to complaints, issue citations and do the work.


Perrotto suggested that the city contract with private workers to more quickly respond to complaints.


Jay Winzenz, assistant city manager, said that is potentially a union issue. Management in the past has talked to the unions, which are concerned about contracting work, he said.


“They don’t see a need to look at that from a public-safety standpoint?” Perrotto asked. “There comes a point in time where logic needs to take over.”


Truman agreed that private workers could be hired without jeopardizing city jobs. City workers are busy keeping city property clear, he said, adding that private contractors were hired last year because the city didn’t have enough staff,


Hiring private contractors also would put residents to work, he said.


“I’ve always been told we’re at bare bones with the (city workers),” he said. People retire and nobody is rehired.


“I really think we need to look outside the box and hire private (workers).”


Truman encouraged the city to get bids so everyone has a fair shot of contracting with the city.


Manager Eric Levitt said Wednesday that staff will return to the council with suggested policy changes for members to consider later this year.


Levitt agreed that the critical component of the delay is the notification policy.


As far as contracting with private workers, he said, “that’s a little more complicated.”



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