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Montpelier Should Stop Shoveling Sidewalks

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The city of Montpelier needs to stop shoveling residential sidewalks.

To set the record straight, I'm not one of those anti-tax crusaders. I firmly believe that collective action through government is kind of the point of having a government. I also don't believe Montpelier taxes are ridiculously high. But I also believe that there should be limits on what the government is doing.

Paving roads, police and fire are obviously good things that the city should be doing.

But clearing the snow from all of the city's sidewalks is an enormous undertaking and it's a significant financial burden on all taxpayers. And, the sidewalks are just not cleared very well.

Here's some numbers I pulled together based on the latest budget.

The average Department of Public Works employee costs taxpayers roughly $68,000 a year. That's based on the average salary for a non-management public works employee of approximately $48,000 a year, then tack on another 40 percent for benefits and you'll get to $68,000.

How many employees could be eliminated if the city stopped shoveling everyone's sidewalks? That I don't know. Of the 30 or so public works employees, I'd wager you could eliminate the equivalent of two full-time employees.

That could be the result of a reduction in maintenance of snow removal machines and the hours spent actually removing the snow, as well as an increase in sidewalk shoveling enforcement.

Does that mean people will lose their jobs? Maybe. Probably not. But either way, city government isn't a jobs program.

So let's pretend that we can eliminate two full-time city employees. That would be approximately $136,000 saved every year in perpetuity in the city's budget. One penny on the tax rate equates to $83,150, therefore, eliminating two full-time employers could save 1.64 cents on the tax rate.

For a residential property listed on the grand list at $223,000, the property owner would see a property tax bill reduction of $36.80 per year. While that doesn't seem like a lot of money, it's something. And my calculations don't take into consideration equipment and maintenance savings either.

I'm not suggesting that the city abandon all efforts to clear snow from sidewalks. The city should still plow sidewalks in the core downtown, as is common in all cities. What's not common in most cities is city employees shoveling the entire city's sidewalks.

I know people don't like shoveling, it's easier to just let the government take care of it. But it's not efficient.

I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. The city didn't clear residential sidewalks. It was the responsibility of property owners and managers to take care of the sidewalk on, and in front of, their property. If they didn't, the city would clear the snow and charge the property owner for the pleasure.

And let's face it, most residential homeowners have maybe 50 feet of sidewalk in front of their property, it might take an extra 10 minutes to shovel that sidewalk, if you're taking your time. For people who really hate shoveling, they can pay someone to clear their sidewalks and they probably already do. For people who can't shovel their sidewalk and don't have the money to pay someone to do so, that's an opportunity for neighbors to be neighborly.

When I was kid, I made good money shoveling sidewalks in my neighborhood, Montpelier's youth could do the same.

And once everyone gets used to removing their own snow, I think the sidewalks will be more clear, more safe, demand less salt that ends up in our rivers and less fossil fuel will be burnt clearing snow from our sidewalks.

Who knows, the exercise might do us all some good.

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