PAROWAN – Some residents of Parowan’s downtown area were surprised recently when they received a letter from the city reminding them they are responsible for their own snow removal, something the city always handled until its City Council passed an ordinance otherwise in March 2014 on advice of the city’s insurance agency.
The ordinance was passed March 13, 2014, in a unanimous vote of the City Council according to council meeting minutes, despite discussion about vacant homes and elders who may be unable to remove the snow on their own.
“Hopefully they have nice neighbors that will take care of them,” Parowan City Manager Shayne Scott said. “If not, they would need to make arrangements to have that done.”
Though the ordinance was passed almost a year ago, Scott said, many residents seemed unaware of the shift in responsibility. So, a letter was drafted Jan. 7 and issued one to each house in the downtown area.
Snow removal is a service that has always been provided to residents by the city, Scott said. It was a difficult decision for the city to make because it felt like losing a small piece of what made the city so unique, he said.
Resident Bob Giles said he believes the city is transferring liability to homeowners to appease the insurance companies. The only reason to pass such a frivolous would be as a way of setting precedent so that other communities could follow suit, he said.
“This blows my mind,” he said. “How can a city pass a resolution to pass the responsibility of keeping these public sidewalk free of ice and snow to the property owners?”
“This would mean that the property owners could then be sued when somebody slips and falls,” he added.
Despite Giles’ fears of liability, Scott said, the truth is, liability will not change. He said homeowners have always been liable if an injury occurs at, or in front of, their home. It is up to the injured party who they decide to go after.
According to the council minutes, the issue of liability transfer was a part of the March 13, 2014, discussion, in which City Attorney Justin Wayment clarified that legal responsibility has always been the homeowner’s responsibility.
“What people need to understand is that they are liable,” the city attorney said. “They are better off to go out and shovel their sidewalks because, from a legal standpoint, they are liable if someone slips, falls and is injured on their property.”
The bottom line is, Scott said, the city’s insurance company made it abundantly clear that if they continued to remove snow from these sidewalks, the insurer would not cover any potential lawsuits that are filed against the city – which would leave the burden of coverage entirely on the city and the taxpayers.
“When they found out that we’re providing this as a service, they immediately advised us to stop,” he said. “They told us that no other city provides this as a service and by doing so we were placing ourselves in a position of liability without coverage.”
By comparison, Cedar City Attorney Paul Bittman said that Cedar City has never provided snow removal as a service. He said there is an ordinance in place that requires residents to remove their snow within 24 hours or the city could potentially issue a citation through code enforcement for not following the ordinance.
“SECTION 27-17. Cleaning Sidewalks. It shall be unlawful for any occupant or owner of any property abutting on any street, within the platted portion of this City, to neglect or fail to clean and keep clean of all weeds, ice, or snow or rubbish, the sidewalks and walkways abutting on his premises.”
To the best of his knowledge, Bittman said, the ordinance Cedar City has in place is fairly standard across the board. In fact, he has never lived in a place where the city provided snow removal before, he said.
Though snow removal for residents and businesses will no longer be provided in Parowan, Scott said, the sidewalks in front of all city-owned public spaces will continue to be maintained by the city.
“It’s going to take some adjusting,” he said. “But this is a community that pulls together and so I know once we get used to it, everything will work out for the best.”
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