City Matters: Another storm, another chance to do your part for your city to do the right thing
Last month, I wrote about a 19th-century state Supreme Court decision that said New Hampshire residents have a constitutional right not to shovel their sidewalk. I called it silly.
Reactions were swift and generally fell into two categories:
• Beware New Hampshire: Any government big enough to force us to shovel our sidewalk is big enough to take our guns.
-- Meet Isaac Blodgett, the Supreme Court justice, who in 1898 — long before there were cars — wrote that laws requiring people to shovel their sidewalks were unconstitutional.
A sidewalk-shovel law, he wrote, was like a tax, because it demanded something of its residents, just as a tax does.
"This is extortion and inequality, pure and simple — and it is nothing else," the decision reads.
Under Blodgett's logic, people with more sidewalk were being overtaxed. ("The tyranny of a corner lot!" he might say.)
But that's preposterous. Note the two houses on Elm Street. The mansion at left fetched $11,200 for the city last year in taxes. Under Blodgett's reasoning, it should be taxed at $7,800, the amount paid by its more modest neighbor. In fact, every property in Manchester should be taxed the same. Then everything would be equal and fair. (Pretty socialistic if you ask me.)
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No sidewalk-shovel law means no respect for sidewalks, which means situations such as this. This is a sidewalk on Bowman Street, a narrow street on the West Side of Manchester. The owner of the car obviously thinks it's fine to park on the sidewalk.
And while the city can't force its residents to shovel sidewalks, city ordinances do prohibit people from shoveling, plowing, or snow-blowing snow onto sidewalks. Just like the city prohibits shoveling snow onto city streets.
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Some warn that a homeowner who does the conscientious thing and shovels his sidewalk opens himself to liability. Just let an ungrateful pedestrian slip, and the victim will end up suing and owning your house. In Massachusetts, I hear, lawyers lurk behind snowbanks to find easy clients.
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When I suggested the idea of a sidewalk shovel law, many city residents say it isn't needed. Why? Because the city already does it.
"It saves me a lot of back-breaking work," McCarty said of the machine. We could have a learned discussion about government overreach, but when someone's shoveling a foot of snow off city property, it's not the time to wax on about self-reliance and limited government.
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Many think this discussion is unnecessary. What's the need for sidewalks in New Hampshire anyway? Most places don't have sidewalks, and everyone has a car.
On Amory Street, 65-year-old Richard Rousseau preferred the slush of the street to deep snow of the sidewalk. The retiree said he walks facing traffic, and the only people who splash him with slush are cars full of kids. As for the sidewalk? No way; he's slipped and hurt his back on unshoveled sidewalks.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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