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Biz owner supports sidewalk snow removal



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March 02, 2011 - Numbers changed, but minds did not as the Oxford Village Council last week took no further action, despite a plea from a local business owner, regarding its Feb. 8 decision to discontinue a downtown snow removal program

"I think that this program was important and I think that it should be continued," said Rick Williams, owner of Williams Art Glass Studio, located at 22 N. Washington St.

Between Dec. 6 and Jan. 31, the village Department of Public Works conducted a pilot program in which its workers cleared snow (1 inch or more) from the front sidewalks of downtown's four quadrants stretching between East St. and Dennison St./Stanton St.

The DPW employees spent a total of 17.5 hours removing the snow on 11 separate occasions over the two-month period. They used an ATV four-wheeler with a plow blade to do it.

"I have to commend the DPW on their wonderful job of removing the snow and allowing pedestrian access to the businesses in the downtown," Williams said.

Originally, the cost for this pilot program was estimated to be $640, however, village Manager Joe Young recalculated the figures and determined it actually cost $71.97 in manpower and equipment for each push, meaning the total program cost was actually $792.

"I do not think that the cost is overly excessive," said Williams, who described the price as "negligible."

"I think the benefits far outweigh the costs that are incurred by the village," he told council.

Williams noted the sidewalks need to be kept clear and safe, so customers can easily access local businesses.

"In all the programs that have been presented here over the years from Oakland County to the architectural planners, it's been made very clear that pedestrian access is key to a successful downtown business district," he said.

Williams indicated the village should be emulating what other municipalities such as Rochester, Ferndale and Royal Oak have done. "They all have a snow removal program similar, if not better, than the one that we implemented here," he said.

Right now, downtown merchants and property owners are responsible, per a village ordinance enacted in 1977, for keeping the sidewalks in front of their establishments clear of snow. Whenever snow accumulates, it must be cleared within 24 hours.

Williams argued large snowfalls such as the area experienced in February make it physically "impossible" to simply shovel by hand, especially when some of it melts and refreezes, creating a "frozen crust."

Councilman Tom Benner asked whether village residents should "eat that cost" for downtown sidewalk snow removal or if the business owners should pay it.

There was a belief on Williams' part that the property tax money already paid by downtown merchants and captured by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) should pay for sidewalk snow removal.

Resident John DuVal pointed out that village taxpayers are already "to some extent subsidizing" the DDA because they have to make up for the tax revenue that gets captured annually by the DDA instead of going into the village's general fund.

Given this, asking village residents to pay for shoveling downtown's sidewalks out of the municipality's general fund would be "twisting the sword a little bit," in DuVal's opinion.

The DDA's total capture from the village for the 2010-11 fiscal year was $194,451, of which the village gets $60,000 back for police services and $85,000 for DPW services, which does not include sidewalk snow removal.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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