By Jim Hayden
With Old Man Winter nowhere in sight, Saugatuck City Council Monday postponed discussion on a proposed snow and ice removal district in downtown to wait for input from two council members.
The latest proposal would shrink the district where business owners would be required to clear sidewalks.
Council members Bill Hess and Chris Peterson were absent from Monday’s meeting. Both are strong proponents of new rules requiring business owners to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of their establishments.
“In fairness to hearing their position,” councilman Mark Bekken asked to delay discussion until the two members return to a meeting.
The city has been working for years to find a way to clear downtown sidewalks. City crews now plow the sidewalks but the equipment purchased in 2015 leaves a thin layer of snow that melts and freezes, creating slippery walkways. Property owners are supposed to clear that.
If the sidewalk in front of a business is not cleared, the city can cite the owner and make him or her pay for the cleanup, but the rules are cumbersome and difficult to enforce, according to city officials.
Council earlier this month approved a new ordinance that allows the city to set up a snow and ice clearance district. The new rule lets the city clear snow and ice off the sidewalk in front of a business, then charge the property owner by putting the assessment on their taxes.
The second step — drawing the boundaries of the district — was put on hold at the Nov. 13 meeting for more discussion.
The original proposal included Butler and Water streets from Culver Street to Mary Street, and Hoffman and Mason streets in the district. Some council members balked at the area, noting many businesses are not open during winter and clearing the sidewalks would not benefit shoppers.
A smaller district — just Butler Street between Culver Street and Village Square Park — was proposed Monday night.
The more-compact district will be discussed at a later workshop when Hess and Peterson would be present, a delay that didn’t bother council members.
“Given the weather forecast, we’re not risking a lot,” said Mayor Ken Trester.
The Saugatuck area has not received any measureable snow so far this season and none is forecast for the near future.
The city also must determine how much to charge property owners when the department of public works clears sidewalks for the business. The original proposal sets the fee using the hourly cost of labor ($30.75 an hour), equipment, material ($15 for a 40-pound bag of salt) and a $25 administration fee.