Snow removal is front and center in summer

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Though it’s still summer, Albert Lea city staff and city councilors are already discussing snow removal concerns before the first snow falls.

During last week’s preagenda meeting, Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison explained the history of the city’s snow-removal policy.

Hutchison said for at least the last 15 years the city has handled snow removal just as it does long grass concerns: on a complaint basis.

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After the city receives a snow-removal complaint, he said, city staff send out a letter to the homeowner, giving them five days upon receipt of the letter to remove the snow and ice. Then, if the snow and ice have not been removed after those days have passed, the city sends somebody out to shovel it. Afterward, a bill is sent to the homeowner.

Because there were so many snow-removal complaints last year, city staff didn’t send out letters last year, Hutchison said. The city is not required to do so.

To see if there’s a better solution, he said, he has been researching other communities to find out about their snow-removal policies. He found that cities were basically performing two different options.

Communities either do what Albert Lea does and shovel the sidewalks after receiving a complaint — with or without sending a letter first — or they would treat snow-removal complaints like a violation, he said. If the sidewalks weren’t shoveled within the time given, the homeowner would actually be fined. One city gave a $25 fine for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for the third, similar to a misdemeanor.

Hutchison said he is recommending the city continue in the manner it has been by dealing with snow removal on a complaint basis and not venture into giving out fines. He also recommended the city go back to sending out the letters when a complaint is received to give homeowners notice.

Complaints can be reported if snow and ice are not cleaned up within 24 hours after accumulating.

Hutchison said what often happens is that the city gets a complaint of snow that has not been shoveled, and when staff go over to the house, they find nobody in the entire neighborhood has shoveled.

City Manager Victoria Simonsen said staff have found that what’s acceptable in one neighborhood may not be acceptable in another.

“We found that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all,” Simonsen said.

Because of the number of snow-removal complaints received last year, Hutchison said the city will start educating the public of snow-removal policies in late October. Information about the policies will be put in the city’s newsletter, on the government channel and in the media.