Hyattsville piling up help for snow shoveling this year -- Gazette.Net


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Some Hyattsville residents may be eligible for snow-shoveling help this winter, as the City Council approved a fund to provide aid in response to concerns about how the city handled the record-setting snowstorm in 2010.

The council approved a $12,000 fund Nov. 13 to assist residents 60 and older and residents with disabilities if their income is equal to or less than 200 percent above the federal poverty line, which varies based on household size. The money will be given to a nonprofit group, which has not yet been chosen, to administer the work at a rate of about $20 per hour to reduce liability for the city, according to a memo detailing the plan. If there are more than four snow events in the city this winter, the city administrator is allowed to issue an additional $10,000 for the program, the memo says.

City officials envision that elderly and disabled residents will have to prequalify for the program and will automatically have their snow shoveled after a snow event occurs, although the details still need to be worked out, said Abby Sandel, communications manager for the city.

“It was a pretty inventive approach to try to fill the gap,” said Councilman David Hiles (Ward 2), who sponsored the motion to launch the program. “We don’t have the capacity to run the program within the city ourselves and take on those liability issues, so to have a nonprofit partner with us on this should create something that should help a lot of people in the community.”

Currently, the city allows residents 24 hours after a snow event to shovel snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes; afterward, residents could get a $100 fine.

When a record-setting snowstorm hit the Washington metropolitan area with 54 inches of snow in February 2010, elderly residents in the city complained that code enforcement officials would frequently leave notices instructing them that they must shovel snow from the sidewalk in front of their homes, said Lisa Walker, board chairwoman of Aging in Place, a nonprofit that advocates for the elderly population in Hyattsville. Shoveling was difficult for the elderly residents who have limited mobility, she said.

Walker said she knew of cases during the 2010 storm in which elderly residents who received warnings were charged large amounts for snow shoveling services from individuals they hired.

“They got a lot of warnings,” she said. “It freaked people out.”

Sandel said she was aware of one case where a resident complained of being overcharged for shoveling services during the 2010 storm, but said there could have been other cases.

The City Council also passed a measure Nov. 13 to allow for the head of code enforcement to consult with the public works director and city administrator to extend the 24-hour time period the city currently allows for residents to have shoveled sidewalks after it snows. Residents are asked to shovel the snow on the sidewalks in front of their homes because many in the city take public transit and may have to walk on the sidewalks to get to a destination, Sandel said.

Walker said making these rules more flexible hopefully would reduce the amount of warnings given to residents and would allow for city staff to work with people on a timeline for when they can get the snow shoveled on their sidewalk. But she said she supported more prescriptive rules on when residents needed to shovel snow, like the rules the city of Rockville has.

Rockville requires residents to shovel snow within 24 hours after the snow stops if there are three inches or less of snow on the sidewalk; 48 hours if there are more than three inches and less than 10 inches; and 72 hours if there is more than 10 inches of snow on the sidewalk.

Having these kinds of rules in place would give more clear guidance for residents, Walker said.

Sandel said city staff thought the rules should be more flexible for code enforcement because every snow event is different. She said the city plans to send a request for nonprofit groups to apply to administer the program and hopes that whoever is chosen will be able to start work in early January.

tsandoval@gazette.net