PUNXSUTAWNEY — Even though winter has barely begun, snow removal in the downtown business district was a major part of a discussion at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
Shirley Sharp of PRIDE (Punxsutawney Revitalization: Investing, Developing Enhancing) reminded the committee about the large piles of snow piled higher than the parking meters this past February, not only downtown, but throughout all other business districts.
“The reason I’m here is because we had an experience last year in which the snow piled up on the downtown streets and created a hazardous condition, particularly for the handicapped and the elderly,” Sharp said, noting that individuals could drive into town, park at a meter and then had to leave their vehicles and walk up icy streets for half a block to access an area where they could get onto the sidewalk.
“We would like to work with council this year to prevent those events from repeating itself this year,” she said. “I was hoping we could begin a conversation on how we can make this happen.”
Borough Manager Ben White said having Public Works crews remove snow from the downtown area during the winter has not been part of their duties.
“Depending on what council wants to do — and what they want to have Public Works crews do during the winter — is up to them,” he said. “That’s not typically something that our crews do during the winter is remove snow from the downtown area.
“It’s the property owner’s responsibility to remove snow from their sidewalk,” White said. “I understand that in certain circumstances, it becomes an issue as to where to put the snow. They shovel it between the meters, leave it there and wait for it to melt.
“At some point it does become a problem, but as far as Public Works removing it from the downtown area, that is something council will have to give guidance on,” he said.
Sharp replied that it falls under both Public Works and the safety of the public.
“In regards to the public safety aspect, if we could look at establishing some guidelines of when it gets to a certain level, maybe Public Works becomes part of the removal, or maybe we can discuss what PRIDE can do to assist with that,” she said.
White said there are property owners who do take away their snow, as well as those who are not guilty of shoveling snow between the parking meter and the curb.
Council President Susan Glessner asked if every downtown business was in agreement on the issue, recalling that a few years ago, when the borough removed snow, there was concern about volunteers’ safety.
Committee member Roger Steele said the biggest question is where does one start, and where does one stop as far as removing snow.
“You have East End businesses, peripheral downtown businesses that have expanded into residential areas,” he said. “Do you take care of North Findley and South Findley streets, or North Gilpin and South Gilpin streets? There’s no end to it.”
Sharp said since PennDOT plows Mahoning Street, it can put snow where it can.
“Some cities, I know there’s equipment that removes the snow and places it in a truck, and it’s hauled off,” she said. “Unfortunately, that is not part of the agreement.
“So, if we have another snowy winter like last winter, we’re looking at another bad public safety situation,” Sharp said. “This is why PRIDE wants to begin the discussion as to what can be done and how should we go about getting it done.”
Steele said council would like to discuss with PRIDE the sidewalks that are not shoveled by the property owners, which create a safety hazard.
“There’s an ordinance, and we try to maintain that,” he said.
Committee member Donna Lellock said there’s a difference between shoveling the sidewalk and piling it up.
“I understand that when you get the snow removed from in front of your store, you shovel it to the side,” she said, suggesting other ways, such as hiring a truck to remove the snow.
White said it has to be a collaborative effort between different groups.
“I think to put the burden on the borough to remove snow from between the parking meters in the winter time isn’t fair,” he said, while Glessner added that she thinks it’s a good idea to form some type of a plan.
Steele noted that the trash cans and flower pots must be removed before the snow begins to fly.
PRIDE member Katie Laska asked how Brookville, Reynoldsville and Indiana remove the snow from their downtown areas. White replied that Brookville does it on a regular basis, and splitting shifts during the winter and having a Public Works shifts at night.
“When it doesn’t snow, I don’t know what they do,” he said. He also said Indiana removed snow because FEMA declared the town in a state of emergency last year, and it received funding.
Committee member Larry Chenoga said in Reynoldsville, the chief of police — when he’s not serving in a police capacity — removes snow and bills the borough.