New London - Budget restrictions mean city police officers will not be "blanket" enforcing a sidewalk snow removal ordinance this winter, the mayor said Wednesday, though property owners are still required to follow the requirement.
This winter's first storm, which dumped some 6 to 8 inches of snow on New London, ended late Saturday. Several sidewalks throughout the city Wednesday evening remained snow- or ice-covered.
No citations were issued Wednesday, police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said, despite a city ordinance that requires property owners to remove snow six hours after a storm ends or by 9 the next morning.
"It does not mean we do not enforce it, the ordinance is in effect, but we have to work within our budget and prioritize what we can and cannot enforce," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said. "If officers are doing that, then there are other things they aren't able to do. There is no overtime allowed other than what is contractually mandated."
The city ordinance requires the police department to enforce the rule and report violations to the mayor. Once that report is made, the mayor is dictated by the ordinance to have the snow or ice removed, presumably by the public works department. The cost of removal would be billed to the property owner, the ordinance states.
"We don't have the manpower in public works or overtime budgeted to do that, either," Finizio said.
Noncompliance of the snow removal policy is a fine of between $25 and $100. Liability for injury on a snowy sidewalk would fall to the abutting property owner, according to the ordinance.
"Of course we're concerned about liabilities, we're concerned about providing good services, but we have to work within our budget, and that's what we're going to do," Finizio said. "We've said services will be affected because we won't run a deficit this year. If we did everything like last year, there would be a deficit."
Finizio said the ordinance would be enforced if there are complaints or if a landlord or property owner consistently does not remove snow. Reichard said his department received one complaint Wednesday, as did the mayor's office. The Day received at least two separate complaints of treacherous sidewalks from residents.
Finizio said when he spoke with the complainant Wednesday, the person "fully understood" the difficulties of enforcing the ordinance.
"We're getting to it, but we need to work within constraints, and I think people understand it," Finizio said. "These same people don't want taxes to go up, and they understand that's going to be a constraint on what government can and cannot do."
Walking gingerly across a snowy, icy patch of snow on a Lincoln Avenue sidewalk, 84-year-old Eddie Alexander said he'd like sidewalks cleared but understands the challenges. Alexander pointed to the house he walked by, near the corner of Elm Street, which he said is vacant, but for rent.
"When someone was living there, they cleared the snow," Alexander said. "People usually keep the area in front of their house clear."
Finizio said the decision, like many budget-related decisions, might be controversial but said "none of these options are good: We don't want liabilities, we don't want to jeopardize individuals, and we don't want a deficit.
"The top priority of the administration, I've been saying for a year, is to balance the budget," Finizio said. "We're doing everything we can to bring the budget in balance by June 30. These kinds of decision are being made now so we can balance the budget and turn a financial corner in the city."