Though City Administrator Larry Hansen said the sidewalk situation so far has been much improved since last year, some city council members think more work can be done clearing downtown streets.
Police Chief John Gannaway told the city council Dec. 17 that the snow removal on the sidewalks with the businesses downtown is going pretty well. The city promised to enforce established ordinances that require shop owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their stores. Hansen said that although he hasn’t seen the exact number of people who have been ticketed, he knows some have been warned about the ordinance enforcement.
The city and business owners had discussed establishing a tax district for snow removal, but the businesses asked to the city simply to step up enforcement of the ordinance this year to see how it went.
“We haven’t issued citations yet,” Gannaway said. “(Community service officers) are giving out written or verbal warnings first, and if action isn’t taken they’ll get a citation. And if action still isn’t taken, the city has a contract for snow removal and that cost will be assessed to the property owner. Since we kind of just started this process, we’re just starting to do warnings of both kinds, and hopefully people will police themselves so we don’t have to do it for them.”
Hansen said sidewalks are cleaner than last year and thanked the shop owners for their cooperation in this effort.
Councilmember Ted Kozlowski feels there are some areas downtown that could use more enforcement to keep sidewalks clean.
“I was shopping over the weekend like most people in the Twin Cities and also here,” Kozlowski said. “It’s kind of a mess downtown, and the sidewalks are better, but there are a few stores that I would like to see get tickets because sometimes it’s pretty treacherous in front of them.”
When it came to street cleanup, some council members had differing opinions on the quality of snow removal on downtown streets and parking lots.
“Why can’t we make downtown a priority,” Councilmember Doug Menikheim said. “If we want to make changes, we have to do it in a more viable way. The windrows downtown have more than 6 inches sitting in them right now. We’ve gotta do better.”
“There are some things that we can do to make it better, and I’d like to hear what we can do for public works to make their jobs better,” Councilmember Mike Polehna said. “Is there equipment or something that we can help you with?”
Kozlowski asked if there was something that could be done about parking lots.
“Parking is crap, but then again I don’t know how we expect our department to clean it up if the cars are parked there all the time,” he said. “I know some cities use temporary no parking signs. Do you need us to do something like that?”
Hansen said a presentation is slated to come before council after the first of the year to answer these questions and possibly ask for some equipment. He added that the level of expenditure set aside for snow removal in the downtown area is highly disproportionate to the other parts of the city. Hansen said that because Main Street is a state highway, the city doesn’t have control of when the state clears it. That makes it difficult to keep downtown clean. Director of public works Shawn Sanders said a typical snowfall of 4-6 inches costs the city $14,000 to clear.
“As the snow was coming down, I read what the politicians had to say, and it was a tough snowfall, especially when it freezes like a stone,” Hansen said. “I’m not making excuses, but sometimes expectations need to be brought back down to reality. We are going to do the best we can and keep doing a better and better job going forward.”
“We keep talking about that, and my expectations seem to be at a different level than yours,” Menikheim said. “So you’re telling us that as we go on this winter, that the snow situation will get better and better.”
“I can only hope so,” Hansen responded. “The bottom line is that we are dedicated to doing a better job and we are open to ideas. We recognize that there is a problem, and we want to make it better.”
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