Government

Cedar Rapids dials back fees for snowy sidewalk scofflaws

Fee scaled back from minimum of $511 to $313

Carol Van Woert shovels snow from her sidewalk on the southeast side on the day after a snowstorm in Cedar Rapids on Thu
Carol Van Woert shovels snow from her sidewalk on the southeast side on the day after a snowstorm in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Nearly four inches of snow fell overnight. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The base charge for snow removal for those who flout Cedar Rapids laws designed to keep walkways clear in the winter have been scaled back to $313.

A new higher fee structure — amounting to a minimum charge of $511 per job — was approved by Cedar Rapids City Council last fall. City officials said they have since adjusted the calculation to allow for billing starting at a half-hour rate rather than an hour and two staff people instead of three bringing the base amount down to $313 although the price could increase based on the amount of work required.

“Our goal and preference is to never face a need to charge for snow removal,” said Steve Hershner, Cedar Rapids utilities director. “In those few unfortunate cases where there has been a complaint and we have given the property owner notice and time to correct the issue, we might still need to bring some sidewalks into compliance. When we perform the work, we focus and invoice on the level of effort required to do so.” Last fall, the fee increases drew differing opinions: the amount could better pressure people to maintain their sidewalks but also might be excessive for the elderly and others with physical impairments limiting their ability to do the work.

Penalties apply to property owners who fail to clear the adjacent sidewalk within 48 hours of a snowfall and ignore subsequent warnings. Sidewalks are considered public right of way, but adjacent property owners nonetheless are responsible for them.

In recent winters, complaints of obstructed sidewalks have risen from 34 in the 2016-17 winter to 136 in 2017-18 to 392 in 2018-19, according to city data. Last winter, the city cleared 58 sidewalks at the owners’ expense, making it the only year of the three the city stepped in.

Complaints typically start the city process, in which the city sends a warning letter to violators with a two-day grace period to urge compliance followed by an inspection. If the sidewalk is not clear when a crew arrives, the crew will clear it and bill the property owner.

Thus far, Cedar Rapids has issued 136 warning letters based on complaints, KCRG-TV reported.

The new fee structure approved by City Council last fall includes a $163 administrative fee per job, up from $115 last year. The labor rate is $68 an hour per person, up from $62 last winter.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

An $84 per hour fee is charged for a small snow plow, $10 per hour for a snowblower and $20 per hour for a 1-ton 4x4 pickup. New charges this winter include a $20 materials fee and $20 per hour for a 3/4-ton 4x4 crew cab pickup.

The scaled back fee is more closely in line with surrounding cities.

Marion charges 85 cents per square foot — which could amount to $272 for a typical residential property — plus a $25 administrative fee. For a first violation, Coralville assesses a $50 administrative fee and passes along the bill from a third party contractor who completes the work, typically $55 to $275 depending on length of sidewalk and whether a snowblower or shovel is required.

“I want to stress the importance of keeping sidewalks safe and accessible for all users,” Hershner said. “We encourage neighbors to help one another by keeping the paths adjoining their property cleared, as required by code, but also to help their neighbors who may need additional assistance with this task.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.