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Downtown sidewalks will no longer be cleared of snow by Gardner city crews, as has been done for more than a decade.
A message sent via the Gardner Chamber of Commerce, said, in part, “Dear Valued Business Owner: This email is to inform you that as of today, July 15, 2021, the City of Gardner will no longer provide snow and ice removal services to the downtown area. While the city has previously offered this assistance to downtown business owners as a courtesy, our current resources will not allow us to continue. Please contact the Gardner Chamber of Commerce to connect you with individuals or local businesses should you need snow removal assistance.”
Not all downtown businesses are members of the chamber.
“There was no perceived value in conducting a poll to determine if businesses are in favor of the city ending a free service that other businesses in town conduct themselves or pay for,” said Jim Pruetting, city administrator. “It’s assumed that those receiving the free service would want that to continue.”
The decision to end the service was made by Jason Bruce, parks and recreation director, and approved by Pruetting. The city council debated the issue at their last meeting, but no decision was reached.
“The change is consistent with the snow removal ordinance passed by the council in 2016,”Pruetting said. “Implementation was therefore not a policy issue. Ending the courtesy was an operational decision, so it fell within the purview of the city staff.”
The council enacted an ordinance in 2016 that made sidewalks the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The delay in implementing the change was due to change in staffing and the pandemic of 2020.
Sidewalks throughout the city, including the downtown area, are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, Pruetting said.
That includes maintenance, repair, and replacement. That responsibility is established in KSA 12-1808. Liability associated with the condition of the sidewalk also falls on the property owner. “According to our insurance provider, Midwest Public Risk, the city providing this service means we could assume some or all the liability if an injury occurs. With that, they recommended we not provide the service. ”
It was not a cost saving decision. “That amount varies year to year depending on the number of snow events,” Pruetting said. Parks and Rec’s staff has completed the task in the past, often requiring overtime and working overnight hours. “Again, this decision was not made based on cost-savings, but on the liability concerns and the uniform application of the city’s snow ordinance.”
The fine is $25 for the first offense in a calendar year, $50 for the second, and $75 for each subsequent violation.
The liability would lie with the business, as is the norm, Pruetting said. What, if any, liability exists is a question that would be determined by a judge or jury in a court action and is not determined by the city.