NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling is looking into ways to reduce the number of Norwalk sidewalks that are impassable due to snow.
Rilling said Tuesday he has talked to Norwalk Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator Dave Shockley about ways to help people who are not physically able to shovel their sidewalks, possibly by encouraging Boy Scout troops to do the work. Rilling said he had talked to Finance Director Thomas Hamilton and Shockley about hiring a second person to enforce ordinances regarding snowy sidewalks and garbage dumping.
Rilling made the comments at the Public Works Committee meeting, which began with activist Mike Mushak stressing the seriousness of the situation.
Mushak said he had done a study of his own Golden Hill neighborhood – of 300 properties, 16 percent had uncleared sidewalks 36 hours after the Jan. 21 snowstorm, he said.
“They were all clustered, which just shows you that when one person doesn’t do it, they all don’t,” he said.
This was all documented with photographs in a seven-page presentation that Mushak handed to the council members.
Only one of the unshoveled sidewalks was at the home of a low income person, he said.
“The rest were out-of-town landlords,” he said. “… When we found out where they lived it was mostly in Wilton and New Canaan, most of them live in multi-million dollar homes, so money is not an issue.”
In one case, a private plow had pushed snow onto a sidewalk and damaged a telephone pole, he said. The snow on the sidewalk was 4 feet deep, he said.
Mushak said he had given the study to Norwalk’s customer service department, and was promised that someone would put warnings on doorknobs.
Ordinance Enforcement Officer Ed Schwartz works 20 hours a week, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.
“My guidance to him is to focus on the schools,” Alvord said. “So every time there’s a snow storm he goes out and starts checking all 19 schools and putting door hangers on the doors where the sidewalks are not cleared. That takes up all of his time.”
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked if imposing fines on offenders would pay for another staff person.
“Ed fined some people and it was like World War III,” Alvord said.
“Now we’re fighting with people that he has levied a fine on who are refusing to pay the fines, so you’ve got to deal with those issues as well. Could we use additional staff to deal with these kinds of things? Absolutely. One guy, 20 hours a week, can’t do it all. He can’t do sidewalks in the winter time, he can’t do garbage in the summer time because there’s not enough people. There are 33,000 properties in the city of Norwalk.”
At which point the mayor spoke up.
Shockley might expand the work that he’s doing, Rilling said. Schwartz doesn’t want to work more hours, he said, but “if we bring another part-timer on, we’ll have (the equivalent of) one full-timer, doing 20 hours each. That other person could work 4 in the afternoon to 8 o’clock at night, when they are most likely to catch the homeowners at home. Whereas Ed works in the day.”
He had spoken to South Norwalk activist Ernie Dumas about doing the work, he said.
On Wednesday, Rilling said in an email he would like to do that soon, but there are some details to be worked out.
He also said at Tuesday’s meeting that another idea is to buy some snow blowers and use a city pickup truck and get volunteers to clear sidewalks for people who cannot do it themselves. Elderly people could sign up to get their sidewalks cleared when there is two inches or more of snow, he said.
Petrini suggested getting religious organizations to volunteer to clean up sidewalks as well.
He expressed a concern about commercial sidewalks and pedestrians walking in the street on main arteries. He again pushed the fine issue, saying, “The only way they’re ever going to do this probably is to put teeth behind this.”