Lansing resident Carol Hess didn’t own her home on Harding Avenue in December, when the city’s Public Service Department shoveled the sidewalk, but she might be held liable for the $116.33 the department charged for the service under the city’s snow removal ordinance.
"I guess it’s up to the committee to decide if people who don’t own the property should be required to remove the snow," Hess said. "I didn’t own the property in December, so I don’t think I should be penalized for failing to remove the snow then."
Hess closed on the home at the end of January. Appearing last week at a special meeting of the Council’s Committee on Public Service to appeal the fee, Hess said she had no idea there was an outstanding fee assessed by the city until she received a letter from the city around June 30.
Immediately, she suspected the fee was incurred before she owned the home, but said it was difficult to find someone who could answer her simple question: when did the department remove the snow?
Hess said it took about nine phone calls to get an answer on that question, partly because the letter itself comes from the office of City Clerk Chris Swope but the fee is charged by the Public Service Department using records from the City Assessor’s Office.
The department assesses the current owner of the property, not the owner at the time of the infraction, city engineer Dean Johnson said, although he and other city officials maintained that appropriate notice was sent to the previous owners.
Johnson argued that the problem was one of "seller disclosure."
"At the time of closing, I would expect that burden against the property would be disclosed," Johnson said, and recom-mended that Hess pay the department the fine, and then seek repayment from her title agency.
Public Service Director Chad Gamble said it is unfortunate Hess is caught in the middle between the city wanting to recoup its costs and enforce the ordinance, and realizing that she is not the person who abdicated that responsibility.
"We have to draw a line in the sand," he said, because one of the motivating factors behind the passage of this newer snow ordinance was the fact that the old one wasn’t enforced — partly because it was difficult to track down owners of vacant properties. "If I were you, I wouldn’t be too happy," he told Hess.
Another representative from the Department of Public Service, Brian Love, insisted that the snow ordinance is working wonders on Lansing’s sidewalks — and because of that, it’s absolutely imperative that the fee for disobeying the ordinance not be waived, even in situations like Hess’.
"This was a banner year for compliance, and the only reason that’s happened is because of the ordinance," Love said.
It’s important, he says, that these charges follow these properties, because the majority of the properties the department clears of snow are for sale.
"People who had never shoveled — ever — in the last 10 years shoveled this year," Love said.
For her part, Hess believes the snow ordinance is a good policy, and said she’s happy to participate in it — starting with the day she closed on her house.
The committee will meet again on Sept. 20 to finalize the list of homeowners with outstanding assessments related to the ordinance.
Hess hopes the Council votes to remove her name, and the names of other homeowners assessed under similar circumstances, from that list.
"If the City Council wants people to live here, they might find a better way to welcome them than making them pay for the upkeep of a property they didn’t own yet," she said.mlive.com/lansing/