Kitchener to fight snow with four new bylaw officers
KITCHENER — Kitchener is more than tripling the number of bylaw officers it will have patrolling the city’s streets this winter to make sure sidewalks are shovelled.
At a cost of $170,000 a year, the city is hiring four contract bylaw officers, who will fan out across the city from November to April, on the lookout for snow-choked sidewalks.
Up until now, the city had just 1.5 bylaw positions dedicated to snow shovelling in winter.
The city requires property owners to clear sidewalks within 24 hours after a snowfall. But until now, the city only enforced the bylaw when it got a complaint about an unshovelled walk. The result has been a patchy network of 1,200 kilometres of sidewalks that often are impassable in winter, especially for those with a disability.
That led to a call last year for the city to follow the example of several other Ontario cities and take over responsibility for shovelling sidewalks, rather than relying on individual property owners. But council balked at the cost, potentially in the millions of dollars, and instead opted for stepped-up enforcement of the existing bylaw.
“It will be a bit of a game changer in terms of accessibility for residents,” said Gloria MacNeil, Kitchener’s director of bylaw enforcement. “We’ve always been in a position where we receive quite a volume of complaints and we’re always reacting.”
The bylaw officers will monitor all 10 wards of the city, driving to a spot and then patrolling on foot.
They’ll concentrate on residential areas — that’s where most complaints originate — and focus on high-traffic area, areas near schools, parks and other destinations, and areas where there have been lots of complaints in the past, said Aaron McCrimmon-Jones, who is managing the snow shovelling effort.
MacNeil said accessibility for pedestrians should improve for two reasons. First, problems should get dealt with more quickly. “With us being out there proactively looking, we will find the problem areas quicker. We’re not waiting for that person to be frustrated and call in a complaint,” she said.
Second, MacNeil hopes more people will make the effort to shovel the sidewalk in front of their house, just because they realize there are people actively looking to make sure they do. “Hopefully, that will get a more positive response, and people will get out and clear the snow, rather than waiting for us to issue them a notice and then reacting.”
Kitchener received about 1,600 complaints about unshovelled sidewalks last year, MacNeil said. People are encouraged to call 519-741-2345 to report problems.
Bylaw officers will issue a warning the first time, which solves the problem in 90 per cent of cases. If the sidewalk is still snow-covered on a return visit, city staffers will clear the walk and bill the homeowner, a cost that averages about $280 but can run as high as $400.
The four new officers will also be collecting data about which areas seem to get more snow and ice, sidewalk conditions and so on. Council will get a report in late spring.
The city is also introducing two other measures to help keep sidewalks snow-free: it’s spending $26,700 to provide sidewalk shovelling services for 50 seniors and disabled people, and offering 10 grants of $500 to buy snowblowers that neighbourhoods can share. Some of those grants are still available — you can apply at kitchener.ca/heresthescoop.