Sept. 2 2010 12:00 AM

New details about a draft snow and ice removal ordinance revealed Wednesday

Though Lansing officials are taking a week to mull over the latest version of a snow and ice removal ordinance, one proponent of the original draft likes what she sees.

“It looks good,” Lansing City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar said following discussion at Wednesday’s Public Services Committee on the sixth draft of a snow and ice removal ordinance.

The ordinance would allow the city to clear a property owner’s public sidewalk and bill the owner. Right now, the city can only issue tickets for not clearing sidewalks.

First Ward City Councilman Eric Hewitt, who chairs the Public Services Committee, drafted the latest version. Here’s what is new:

  • The Public Service Department can choose to issue notices by mail, in person or both 24 hours after a snowfall. The property owner has 24 hours after the notice is posted or the mail is received to clear the snow or ice. The mail will be determined received 72 hours after the city sends it.

  • The notice will require a description of why the property is in violation. Though there are no depth limits for how much snow can accumulate, Hewitt said it will be up to the Public Service Department’s discretion on when to issue notices.

  • The property owner is notified of the fee within five days if the city has to clear the snow. “If there is any problem here, it gives the property owner an opportunity to challenge that fee,” Hewitt said. Otherwise the owner still has 30 days to pay. If the owner doesn’t pay, however, the ordinance would allow the city to add the fee to the owner’s property tax, unlike current fines.

  • Hewitt specified the three layers of an appeals process, should that happen. Upon receiving the fee notice, the property owner has 20 days to file an appeal with the city attorney. The Claims Review Committee will review that within 30 days. If denied, the property owner can appeal yet again to the City Council within 14 days of the review committee’s decision.

  • Property ownership cannot be transferred with outstanding fees on the property tax roll unless both parties and the Public Services Department agree upon it.

  • The “sunset clause” was removed, meaning that, if passed, this ordinance will not have to be renewed in a year.

The committee agreed to give Chad Gamble, director of the Public Service Department, till its next meeting, which begins at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, to comment on the new draft.

Hewitt said his version gives more control to the administration by allowing it as much time as it needs to inspect properties and more latitude on delivering notices. “It gives them the opportunity to operate in a more judicious way.”

The first draft was written in early February 2009. The fifth draft was written about a month later and is the one that has been sitting in Public Services Committee ever since.

Owners of foreclosed properties are perhaps the biggest violators of city requirements to clear sidewalks. At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries suggested creating a database of foreclosed properties in the city. Having a local contact number for an out-of-state bank, he said, could make it easier to recoup fees assessed to these problem properties.

“These properties are driving the snow ordinance,” he said. “That’s why I’m bringing it forward at this time.”

(What’s wrong with the city’s existing ordinance on snow and ice removal? Click here.)