AK: Legislation would make winter street cleaning local authority liability

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Ice on the road in Tallinn on February 23. Source: Angelica Õunapuu

While snow and ice may be by now a distant memory as summer arrives, the Riigikogu voted in favor of two bills from two different parties Tuesday which would make keeping sidewalks and areas adjacent to properties clear and safe the responsibility of local government, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Tuesday night.

Clearing snow and ice, including potentially hazardous icicles, and keeping sidewalks slip-free with the use of grit or salt has until now been the responsibility of the owners of adjacent buildings.

Adherence to the regulations in practice run the gamut and can often lead to issues when ownership is unclear, owners are absent or unable or unwilling to undertake the regular work.

Two different bills have been tabled, from opposition parties the Social Democrats (SDE) and Isamaa, and passed their first reading Tuesday. If they enters into law – bills usually require three readings to pass and then are sent to the head of state to be signed into effect – the buildings code would be amended to make the street cleaning work the job of local authorities.

MP and Tallinn city councilor Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE) says that many sidewalks are simply not properly maintained during the winter months, leading to falls and injuries, while the principle of expecting the public to provide unpaid municipal services several hours per week is not sound either.

Kaljulaid said: "Just as it is illogical that we do not oblige by law any Tallinn residents to wash the mayor's car every week, it is equally abnormal for us to oblige city residents to maintain the city's sidewalks," Kaljulaid explained.

Isamaa MP Aivar Kokk said that his party supported the bill

"If the socialists only have the maintenance of sidewalks, then we also have the public good, because in addition to maintaining the sidewalks, homeowners must also mow the lawn and clean the territory that actually belongs to the municipality, but which borders the human plot," said the Fatherland faction. member Aivar Kokk.

"Whereas SDE are only thinking about maintaining sidewalks, we also take the public good into consideration, since homeowners also have to maintain sidewalks, mow lawns and keep land clean which in actuality belongs to a municipality, since it abuts on to the individual's plot of land," Kokks aid.

Center Party MP Erki Savisaar said that in Tallinn, making sidewalk winter maintenance the responsibility of the city would cost an extra €20 million per year, which would require a source of funding, while Reform MP and Tallinn councilor Kristen Michal said that he had neither a mandate or a desire to talk about any new ype of taxation, but that his party would consider combining both bills into one and obtain financial estimates for the effects of both combined.

The finance ministry has said that this process should be applied to all local governments to assess where resources might come from in order to fund the cleaning work. The ministry also said that local governments could set conditions on the work themselves – also hinting that the local authority may want to step in only when an individual liable to conduct the street cleaning work was unable to do so due to their health or socio-economic situation.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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