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A group in Columbus has proposed changing the city’s downtown snow removal ordinance to reduce the amount of time businesses are allowed to clear sidewalks.

Currently, businesses have 24 hours to clear snow of at least two inches or more from neighboring sidewalks after a snowfall or face a possible fine. The Downtown Beautification Task Force, formed in the summer of 2018, has proposed trimming the 24-hour rule to 12 hours to make sidewalks more appealing and safer to pedestrians.

The task force is not an official city committee or board, but is comprised of residents and business owners. Matt Schreiber, the city’s director of planning and development, has led previous meetings and Trina Reid, a city council member, attends most meetings.

Liz Davis, a member of the task force and a downtown resident, made her pitch for the ordinance at the Dec. 20 City Council meeting.

“The task force felt it needed to offer a statement about snow removal in the downtown due to how sloppy and poor it looks to people driving downtown,” Davis said. “Having clear sidewalks is also important for downtown businesses and their customers. Making sure customers know they won’t slip and fall downtown feels like the least we can do.”

The task force’s recommendation to the council applies only to the downtown business district. Davis said group members connected with other small towns to review their snow removal codes. She discovered that some municipalities had tighter municipal codes than Columbus or the same, but charged the actual expense of snow removal instead of the flat $50 fee, plus an additional $15 administration fee the city currently charges. That includes taking photos of the offense, issuing a citation and putting warning notices on doors. Davis said there is no extra fee for “chronic offenders.”

Davis said some larger cities, such as Waukesha, use the 12-hour limit for the entire city. After 12 hours has passed the city issues a warning to businesses, which Columbus also does. If another 12 hours passes, the city of Waukesha clears the sidewalk for the actual cost of snow removal.

According to the Columbus Public Works Department, actual cost for removing snow from most sidewalks is $83 with an additional $18 in administrative fees, totaling $101.

“That’s almost twice what (the city) actually charges,” Davis said.

For research and recommendations, the task force reached out to several area towns, including Waterloo, Watertown, Sun Prairie and Beaver Dam. Davis said those towns charged actual cost of snow removal.

“Columbus loses money each time it is forced to shovel for an offender,” Davis said. “A higher flat fee of $100 or more to cover the cost is recommended.”

To discourage repeat offenders, the task force also recommends adding a fee after the first offense, with another after an additional offense during the typical snow season from November-April. Davis said most of the municipalities the group contacted doubled the fee after the first offense.

Davis said, according to a city municipal code, Columbus can issue citations in addition to the removal fees.

“We would like to see that clarification with monetary amounts and number of violations stated,” Davis said.

The task force believes snow removal changes would benefit the city in several ways, including keeping residents safer, encourage foot traffic downtown in winter for businesses, help downtown look cared for during a time when the city is trying to attract businesses to the downtown, save the city’s taxpayers money by requiring the full cost of snow removal be paid, discourage repeat offenders with stiffer penalties, and reduce excessive paperwork for city staff.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the city’s Committee of the Whole discussed making the task force a more formal entity, perhaps developing it as a subcommittee to Columbus’ Tourism Commission.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.