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Lockport snow shoveling fee would be illegal, attorney says

LOCKPORT – The proposed City of Lockport $250 “administrative fee” for not shoveling snow off sidewalks is illegal, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano told the Common Council on Wednesday.

As a result, the proposed law embodying the fee was removed from the Council agenda for further research.

The plan was to add the fee to the cost of having the sidewalk shoveled by a contractor. The bill would be sent to the property owners and added to the following year’s property tax bill if it wasn’t paid.

But Ottaviano said a Feb. 6 ruling in a Monroe County case by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said such “fees” are really fines, no matter what a municipality chooses to call them. The court unanimously struck down Rochester’s sidewalk shoveling law.

“The only way you can impose that is to have a judge do it,” Ottaviano told the aldermen.

Without the automatic fee, the city might not be able to force property owners to shovel promptly. Chief Building Inspector Jason C. Dool said a court summons issued Jan. 1 wouldn’t have a court date until Jan. 21.

“I can bring anybody you want into court,” Dool said. “That doesn’t mean the sidewalk’s going to get shoveled.”

Alderman-elect Richard Abbott, D-5th Ward, observed, “It would mean your grass-cutting administrative fee is illegal, too.”

Dool said the city sent out 85 grass bills this year and collected about $15,000, some of which were leftovers from 2014.

Several speakers at a public hearing said $250 was too high. “It’s discriminatory, because a third of the city doesn’t have sidewalks,” resident Doralyn Marshall said. “I think this is a mistake to go to such an excessive fine.”

“I think this is a ridiculous thing,” resident Russell Bruning said. Dana Barish called it “completely unenforceable.”

The Council, however, did hire TDS Services of the Town of Lockport – the same company that cuts grass in overgrown city lots – to clear sidewalks. Dool said the company will charge $30 or $35 regardless of the length of the sidewalk.

In another matter, the Council agreed to allow the hiring of three new police officers, effective Monday. The new hires were provided for in the recently ratified contract between the city and the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association, but they weren’t supposed to be hired until Jan. 1.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert told her if the city waited until then, the new officers might not hit the street until May, because of the timing of classes at the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy. Hiring this month means the rookies will get on the street in late February or early March, the mayor said.

One of the reasons for hiring more officers was to reduce overtime in the Police Department. The Council transferred funds Wednesday to cover $316,765 in police overtime that exceeded the $300,000 in the budget, Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader said.

The money came from refunds the city obtained on workers compensation cases, Seneca Niagara Casino money sent to the city by Niagara County, and sales tax revenue from hotel, restaurant and utility bills, which Schrader said is running ahead of budget this year.

Also Wednesday, the Council approved a deal with Iskalo Development Corp. of Williamsville to give the company an easement on 11 parking spaces in the municipal lot on Chestnut Street behind the old post office.

In May, the Council approved Iskalo’s $375,000 purchase of a city-owned building at 57 Canal St., but Ottaviano said the deal has yet to be signed. He said Iskalo insisted on some parking behind the post office, which Iskalo already owns, as a throw-in on the deal. Ottaviano said the restriping of Chestnut Street after the opening of Cornerstone Arena created 12 new parking spaces in the lot, “so it’s a wash.”

The Council agreed to a pay raise for McCaffrey’s new secretary, Diane Crowe, to $35,000 a year, which is $6,300 more than the position was budgeted for in 2016. Crowe starts work Thursday, replacing Brandy Martucci, who moved out of the city.