Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Bill to shovel sidewalk irks property owner

by Lisa Seiser

February 09, 2012

This was the scene after Lake Geneva's snow shoveling contractor completed work on Nancy Swanson's "Sidewalk to nowhere," a 25-yard long sidewalk that begins and ends in front of her home.
Lake Geneva homeowner Nancy Swanson smiles when she refers to the "sidewalk to nowhere" in front of her house.

But it has become no laughing matter for Swanson or her husband. Last week they received an $80 bill from the city for shoveling the 75-foot walkway that begins and ends in front of their home on Boulder Ridge Road.

"Basically, they are telling us to shovel a sidewalk we don't use and nobody else could use," Swanson said. "I think it is pretty crummy. If you look at the house, you will see the stupidity of it."

The couple lives in the Stone Ridge subdivision on the far north side of the city. On one side of their home is a vacant lot, on the other, a home under construction. Neither property has a sidewalk, leaving the Swanson's walk connected to nothing but grass and mud.

"This is crazy," she said. "There is no reason to shovel this. When it is connected, it would be worth shoveling."

Swanson also was adamant that she and her husband "would be the first people to shovel" if they thought the walkway could be used. The city's ordinance states that all snow and ice be removed from sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall. The city has focused on enforcement the past few years after receiving complaints of people not shoveling their sidewalks, mainly in the downtown areas. When walkways aren't shoveled, a contractor performs the work and the city bills the property owner.

"I agree with the intent of the law, but why is there never any common sense?" she asked.

The Swansons weren't the only ones in the subdivision to receive a bill. According to city officials, about 10 or so in the subdivision received the bills following the snowfall in mid-January. A total of more than 100 property owners throughout the city have been billed for not shoveling their sidewalks this winter. Swanson said in the five years she's lived in the subdivision, she has never shoveled her "sidewalk to nowhere."

Following Swanson's complaint to City Hall, Administrator Dennis Jordan and Mayor Jim Connors discussed the matter and have agreed this situation will have to be addressed.

Connors said the ordinance is not written to differentiate between which sidewalks are shoveled and which are not. The ordinance states snow and ice must be removed from all sidewalks. If it is not, the city steps in. A contractor shovels the sidewalk and charges the city $40. The city turns around and doubles that charge and bills the property owner $80.

That's another problem Swanson had with the bill. It was for the Jan. 13 snow, which she said was less than two inches. She said it probably took 10 minutes at the most to shovel the walk and to be charged $80 for that is "crazy."

She also was upset the contractor was the person who made the decision to shovel.

"They told me he drives around and looks for properties to do," Swanson said. "If I was driving around and making $40 every time, I would shovel every sidewalk I could, too."

Jordan and Connors said the contractor was told to enforce the law and that is what he is doing.

"This was a blatant, in your face, we want to make money," an angry Swanson added. "Maybe they're not making enough money from parking or they need to pay their higher insurance rates because of the lawsuits they lost."

But Connors and Jordan said generating additional revenue is not the intent of the $80 charge.

The reason the city doubles the cost of the actual shoveling is to make a point to property owners who don't shovel, Jordan said.

"We just want people to shovel," he said.

Swanson still feels as though she and her neighbors are being harassed and the enforcement is arbitrary.

"We are going to have to look at it," Connors said referring to the Swanson's complaint. "We will have to apply some common sense. I think we'll take a look at it and do the right thing."

Whether that means the Swansons and others in the subdivisions or similar situations will have to pay the bill or shovel in the near future remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, Swanson said she will shovel her "sidewalk to nowhere" until further notice.

"Of course we're going to shovel," she said. "Who can afford $80 to shovel a sidewalk that takes 10 minutes even though nobody will ever walk on it?"