By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
This winter’s unprecedented snowfalls brought frustration to Middletown, but they also nudged the township to take another look at how it reacts to the weather.
Following a substandard response to the post-Christmas pounding, when streets went days without seeing a plow and cars got stranded all over town, leadership retooled its plan to clear both roadways and lines of communication.
Now they’re focusing on the sidewalks.
The township committee is weighing stricter enforcement and heavier fines for property owners within a school zone who don’t clear their sidewalks 24 hours after a snowfall.
“Within 1,000 or 1,500 feet of a school, there’s probably no busing, so that’s where you’re going to have a lot of walkers and where you’re going to have a lot more accidents,” Mayor Tony Fiore said. “In light of what we’ve seen, sidewalks are always going to be an issue, but we’ve seen where a lot of residents have not (shoveled).”
Fiore said while a more stringent ordinance is intended to keep school children safe, it’s also an alert that Middletown is serious about keeping the snow and ice out of the way.
“We hope maybe this potential change will bolster that,” he said. “It’s a true safety issue.”
If implemented, this would be added to a list of changes the township made in light of the onslaught of snowstorms this winter.
The town has set up a central command center where officials and department heads can meet to discuss plans of action, coordinate with private contractors and disseminate information to the public when a large storm is expected.
Staying in touch with residents has also gotten a tune-up, Fiore said.
Fiore said the township has taken better advantage of its phone and web resources since the first major storm in December. The reverse 911 system has been used to warn residents of an upcoming storm and to make necessary preparations, he said. The township website has been updated with more regularity warning of conditions and giving updates on what’s happening, where the plows are going and any hazardous conditions in town.
“We’ve really done a lot to increase the communications to let everyone know what the process is and what it could potentially be during a snow event,” Fiore said.
That’s helped out the town, as well, he said.
During the first storm, town hall and the police department’s phone lines were bogged down with calls that were considered non-emergencies, Fiore. Putting as much information out via the web and reverse 911 has relieved that headache for both town officials and residents, he said.
“It has drastically decreased the number of 911 calls that they were getting for snow which were not emergencies,” he said, “which became a real big issue.”
Fiore said the town is still assessing its response plan to make more improvements. Meantime, residents are urged to sign up for the C3 alert system to stay up to date on what’s going in town.