EDITORIAL: Give inmates bigger role after snow

The York Dispatch

From the comfort and safety of living rooms, last month’s blizzard was a thing of beauty while the snow was falling.

Afterwards … not so much.

Shoveling is a pain in the neck — or back, or arms — following a normal snowfall.

After the historic blizzard that dumped more than 2 ½ feet of snow in parts of York County Jan. 23-24, the work was downright brutal.

But clearing snow from sidewalks is necessary — and in most municipalities it’s a homeowner’s legal responsibility once the snow stops falling.

Contractors clear up York City snow snafu

In York City, owners have to clear a 36-inch-wide channel on the sidewalks surrounding their properties or risk a $100 fine. They normally have 12 hours after the snow stops falling, but the city suspended that after the huge snowstorm and gave people eight days to complete the task.

Joyce Kopp, who lives on a corner property at East Cottage Place and Pine Street, had more sidewalk to clear than most city residents, but the 67-year-old said she and her family finished the work the day after the snow stopped.

Imagine her dismay when, the next week, crews working a front-end loader for the city scooped up some of the mountains of snow still lining York’s streets and dumped it onto about 20 feet of her previously passable sidewalks.

Kopp said she called the city, leaving messages with the public works department once and then the mayor's office "at least twice," but no one called her back.

What she did receive on Feb. 1 was a notice on her doorknob — a "friendly reminder" to remove the snow or face the fine. The all-caps notice also says — underlined in red ink — "Please do your best not to pile it up on the sidewalk along the curb."

When contacted by York Dispatch reporter Sean Cotter, Steve Buffington, York City's deputy director of permits, planning and zoning, said he didn’t think Kopp would be cited.

But he did say Kopp would eventually have to clear her walkways again. If the city plows snow up on the sidewalks — or even, as is the case here, dumps it there — it's still on the resident to make the sidewalk passable, Buffington said.

"I don’t know what else they expect the city to do with the snow," he said.

Fast forward a few days and all was well at the corner of East Cottage Place and Pine Street.

Buffington called Kopp and apologized. She wasn’t cited, and the contractor who dumped the snow returned and cleared her walkways.

That’s not a bad outcome considering what all of us were dealing with in the aftermath of the blizzard.

But it does highlight a problem that should be addressed before the next historic storm:

The city needs a better plan for dealing with significant snow than dumping it on residents’ property — residents who, by the way, also can be cited for shoveling sidewalk snow into the streets.

A solution might be locked up a few miles away in Springettsbury Township.

Around the same time Kopp was fretting over her new mountain of snow, York County Prison work release inmates were clearing snow from intersections downtown and creating paths for pedestrians.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey had requested county help, but the county doesn’t have much in the way of snow-removal equipment. But the county did have a cadre of workers more than willing to spend the day outside in the snow.

Inmates from the prison were also called upon to help clear snow in other municipalities, such as Mount Wolf, Wrightsville and Dallastown.

"I think it's a great way to use (inmates) to do public service for the city," said York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also heads the county prison board.

So why not enlist the inmates for snow removal beyond the downtown district, out in the neighborhoods where they can help residents and businesses alike?

It would be a win for the prisoners who get to spend a day beyond the bars, city crews who have bigger concerns — and residents like Kopp who shouldn’t have to do her duty more than once after a storm.