Gorham Public Works employee Tony LaBrecque rolls out one of the town’s two sidewalk snow removal machines. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Gorham property owners will not be required to shovel snow from public sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses – for now.

The Town Council last week voted 6-0 to reject a proposal requiring residents to perform winter sidewalk maintenance. The proposal was shelved, but the council is keeping it within easy reach as additional sidewalks are built and in case Public Works Department needs increase.

Councilor Ben Hartwell said if the town plows a road, it has “a duty to clear the sidewalks as well.”

A state statute allows municipalities to decide whether property owners should be responsible for getting the snow off abutting sidewalks, Hartwell said, citing Portland as one city that has such an ordinance. Property owners aren’t be held liable in case of an accident.

The Public Works Department now clears 10.5 miles of sidewalks in Gorham Village and Little Falls, acting Director Terry Deering told the American Journal this week.

Last week, in an item separate from the ordinance proposal, the council assigned the department nearly another half-mile of sidewalks to maintain, including 730 feet on College Avenue, 410 on Chick Drive, 580 on Bouchard Drive and 550 on Acorn Street.

A sidewalk plow cost about $150,000 and the town has two, one equipped with a snowblower and the other with a V-shaped plow. Both are outfitted with sanding attachments.

Public Works doesn’t employ any dedicated drivers for sidewalks and the job usually is handled by a plow truck driver when one becomes available, Deering said.

It takes 12 hours for one pass to clear sidewalks. Following a storm, clearing begins at 4 a.m. to accommodate students who walk to school. Sidewalks are generally cleared twice, Deering said, depending on the time of day and snowfall.

The proposed ordinance for property owners to take over sidewalk maintenance remains on the radar.

Councilor Ron Shepard emphasized the ordinance obligating property owners to clear sidewalks is not dying.

“We’re not taking action right now,” he said.

Officials also will be eyeing potential zoning changes.

“We’re requiring so many sidewalks we can’t maintain,” council Chairperson Lee Pratt said, “It’s painful.”

Vice Chairperson Jim Hager was absent.

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