Wednesday, March 12, 2008

sidewalk clearance sale!

Contact Dundas (Ward 13) councillor Russ Powers to lend your support to sidewalk clearance at 905.546.2714 rpowers@hamilton.ca
McHattie's snow scheme gains traction

The Hamilton Spectator (Mar 12, 2008)

A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows residents in the Hamilton-Niagara region have the highest rate in the province of emergency room visits for falls on snow and ice.

The 2005 study notes these kind of falls are hardest on the elderly, with the most common injury being lower limb fractures.

There's no telling if that statistic will help boost Brian McHattie's proposal to hire contractors to clear sidewalks in his west-end ward, with the cost being added to property owners' tax bill.

But it sure can't hurt.

McHattie says he's received an "overwhelming" amount of feedback on his initiative, with support running almost two-to-one in favour of paying for sidewalk plowing. McHattie argues unshovelled sidewalks not only put seniors at risk, they make walking harder for everybody and increase people's reliance on cars.

If he gets enough support from residents, he intends to ask council to approve adding sidewalk snow removal to Ward 1 tax bills so the service can begin next winter.

City staff estimate it will cost $28 to $31 per household for the first year, $19 to $22 in the second year and likely lower yet again in subsequent years.

McHattie is only exploring the service for the 30,000 or so residents of his own ward.

But he says his council colleagues are tracking reaction to his plan with great interest.

There's no question, it strikes a strong chord with the public.

In response to a Spectator story and an e-mail notice from his office, McHattie has now heard from more than 300 of his constituents, with 215 in support and 115 against.

He's also received dozens of calls from residents in other wards, most of which are solidly behind him.

Councillor Sam Merulla of Ward 4 in the east end -- who first proposed plowing residential sidewalks as a citywide initiative a couple of years ago -- is backing McHattie.

And Dundas Councillor Russ Powers says he's "more than prepared to consider it" for his own Ward 13.

Powers, however, fears the cost may be higher than estimated.

And he cautions it's important residents realize they won't have a choice of opting out if the service went forward: Everyone would pay the premium whether they want their sidewalks cleared or not.

"It would be on the tax bill," says Powers.

Nikola Patti, McHattie's administrative assistant, says many of the supporting calls have been from seniors with mobility problems.

On the other hand, they've also heard from able-bodied seniors who either don't need the service or are worried about the cost.

I've also received more than two dozen calls and e-mails on the subject, the majority of which were opposed to the idea.

Some callers were simply against seeing their tax bills go up. Again.

One gentleman wanted to round up welfare recipients to shovel the snow.

A good number insisted the city should put more effort into enforcing its snow-clearing bylaw rather than raising taxes.

"I'm a senior citizen and I do not want to subsidize all the absentee landlords, apartment dwellers and business owners that don't shovel their sidewalks," said one caller.

"There's a bylaw in place, please enforce it."

McHattie is in something of a tight spot now.

He obviously needs to decide what's the appropriate level of support for forging ahead with the idea. And he figures a ratio of more than two-to-one certainly helps.

But the more feedback he gets -- for or against -- from Ward 1 residents, the politically happier and safer he'll be.

If you want to have a say, contact McHattie at 905-546-2416 or bmchattie@hamilton.ca.

And blog your own comment on specthread at thespec.com.

Andrew Dreschel's commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
adreschel@thespec.com
905-526-3495

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