Hamilton city councillors are mulling over the idea of taking on responsibility for clearing snow from all city sidewalks using taxpayer money.
During a budget-related general issues session at city hall on Monday, close to 20 delegates shared stories of unplowed walkways on city streets in winter and the effect it’s had on people with mobility issues.
Leo Dragtoe, a member of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO) who uses a cane regularly, told councillors he didn’t leave his home the day after city’s last snowfall on the weekend.
“Yesterday was a day that I couldn’t go out, and I’m sure I’m not the only one,” said Dragtoe, noting the snow-covered sidewalks on Sunday.
Meanwhile, disability advocate Sarah Jama told a story about how her mobility scooter got stuck in the snow out front of Jackson Square last year.
“I was taken out of the snow by somebody who was experiencing homelessness,” Jama said. “And for me, it’s a scary thing to not know who I’m going to rely on to pull me out of the snow.”
Karl Andrus of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network told councillors how limited his access was to a nearby street in his neighbourhood after he suffered an injury in an automobile collision a few years ago.
“This left me stuck in a wheelchair for months, on crutches for many months longer. It happened during winter,” Andrus said. “And for days and weeks at a time, I could not get feet from my front door.”
Andrus told Global News he believes the issue affects a range of situations, from those who can’t clear snow from their own residences to others with mobility issues who have trouble navigating unplowed city streets.
“I would think most homeowners aren’t the offenders of the problem here when we’re talking about mobility issues. There’s lots of abandoned properties, parking lots and developments,” said Andrus.
A public works report presented in January suggests it would cost between $3.06 million and $5.36 million for one of two new potential scenarios to clear snow if approved.
“If the service level enhancement was expanded further to include all 2,445 km of sidewalks on city roadways, it would require an increase in the range of $3.53 to $3.78 million, bringing the total budget to between $5.11 and $5.36 million,” the report said.
A lower-budget alternative, according to the report, would be to only plough Priority 1 and 2A roadways for an additional 783 kilometres of sidewalks cleared. The cost of that plan would be in the range of $1.48 million to $1.78 million for a total snow-removal budget of between $3.06 million and $3.36 million.
A third scenario would be a status quo for city snow removal, which is currently reserved for municipally owned properties and sidewalks adjacent to school properties.
Adding snow removal would likely mean another increase in the already proposed 3.5 per cent tax hike for the 2020 operating budget, which targets a $145 increase for the average home valued at an estimated $358,000.
Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark says he doesn’t want to dismiss the idea of adding sidewalk snow removal to the budget, but he notes some of his colleagues have raised concerns about the problems of existing snow-clearing equipment.
“There’s always a skiff of snow, if you will, on the top,” said Clark. “And so in other jurisdictions, there has been a lot of complaints that the snow clearing that is being proposed just doesn’t do the test. And so we have to manage expectations.”
But Clark also sees the argument from the other side saying there is also a cost to not clearing snow in relation to slips and falls for which the city could be liable as well as the impacts lingering snow would have on local business.
“If the sidewalks are cleared then in snow events — then they’re not losing income because people aren’t coming into their store,” Clark said.
The city’s report says that between Jan. 1 and March 15, 2019, the city’s licensing and bylaw division received 2,786 complaints connected to a failure to remove snow from sidewalks.
In response, the city issued 1,240 orders to comply. There was a 94 per cent compliance rate once such an order was issued.
The report goes on to say that if one of the two new sidewalk snow-clearing plans were to be approved for the latest budget, the city would not be able to implement it before winter 2020.