Snowy sidewalks (copy)

Ron Fendrick, of Omaha, clears ice from his sidewalk and driveway near 160th Street and Farnam Street in Omaha on Feb. 26.

Many Omahans ignored their obligation last winter to clear their sidewalk within the required 24 hours after major streets are plowed. The city received 2,899 complaints about uncleared sidewalks, a major increase from the recent past. The city rightly hit those residents with a fine.

But there’s a complication. In some cases, residents weren’t scofflaws; they just had difficulty in a particular instance in getting their walk cleared. The city charged many homeowners more than $500 for snow removal by a city contractor. That’s a steep penalty for an individual, and certainly for anyone who faced only a one-time difficulty with sidewalk clearance.

The City Council this week turned its attention to the issue and adjusted the penalties. Under a proposal from council member Aimee Melton, property owners who fail to clear their sidewalk will be charged no more than the market rate set for snow removal for the year.

Under the adjusted policy, the average homeowner who misses once should expect to pay about $240. Repeat offenders face new fines of up to an additional $300 each time.

City officials rightly urged Omahans to make arrangements ahead of time if they know they will have difficulties getting their sidewalks cleared. “Don’t wait for us to do it,” Melton said. “It’s still expensive.”

With these changes, the city is striving to avoid placing too great a burden on residents who aren’t irresponsible repeat offenders. It’s the right policy.

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