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Towns coping with the snow

Cities in Becker County have been feeling a financial pinch with Local Government Aid being unallocated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Record snow for December is stretching cities' finances in trying to clear roads.

Workers and administrators in Frazee have had to pitch in to help clear the deluge.

Nearly all of the city's sidewalks, with the exception of Main Street, are still packed with several feet of snow.

A city ordinance is on the books requiring residents to remove snow from public sidewalks 24 hours after the snow. But due to the large amount of snow, Frazee City Clerk/Treasurer Jonathan Smith said that the ordinance is not being strictly enforced.

"We're asking people to use common sense," Smith said.

In the past, all of the recent storms would have put a dent in the city's budget. Smith said, though, that the city is saving money this year after it purchased a payloader in March 2008.

"It's reduced our costs from past years," Smith said.

Having a payloader means the city doesn't have to contract for snow removal. Also reducing costs is that the city is only plowing once the snow has stopped falling.

"We try to plow one time only," Smith said.

The city's Public Works Department, which consists of two employees, is also getting a helping hand from Smith and police officers.

Smith said that he's helped out with the past few storms.

With the streets clear, the snow has to go somewhere and space is running out.

Smith said that some snow has been piled in the alleys behind the buildings along Main Street. Other spots include the Swift redevelopment site next to Frazee Family Foods.

That site, while empty, is not being fully utilized, Smith said, because it was just seeded in the fall.

As for how the city plans to deal with storms down the line, Smith said the city is prepared.

"We're hoping this doesn't happen every year," he said. "We tackle it day-by-day."

Other cities in Becker County are also overloaded when it comes to snow removal.

Audubon is running out of places to dump snow.

"There are a couple of spots that are filling up," said Jim Bergerson, maintenance supervisor for the City of Audubon.

He said that he's been moving snow around to make it all fit.

Lake Park Public Utilities Superintendent Dan Qualley said his office has put in a lot of overtime since most of the storms have fallen on weekends.

"We're keeping up with it," Qualley said.

Needing salt to do that, both Lake Park and Audubon are purchasing it as needed from the county and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The storms have been a mixed blessing for Qualley.

"I'm an avid snowmobiler," he said. "You have to take the good with the bad."

While the early storms caused some problems for the 2008 budget, Lake Park's 2009 fiscal year started on Jan. 1.

"I've been working well into my budget," Qualley said.

The lower cost for fuel has helped matters somewhat. But if Becker County gets snowstorms well into April as it did in 2008, the public utility department's finances will be crimped even further.

As with most of the smaller cities in the county, Lake Park has only one plow, with a loader and a few trucks with plows attached.

Snow clearing duty is pulling workers away from their normal jobs, though. Qualley said he's clearing snow in the morning and then working on end-of-the-year paperwork for 2008.

There's one less headache that Qualley has to deal with. He said that Lake Park isn't struggling to find a place to haul snow to.

The big problem for him is keeping the drifts down on the corners so that motorists do not have to pull into traffic in order to see oncoming vehicles.

"The corners are getting built up again," Qualley said of recent developments.

He said that motorists need to exercise patience.

"You need to take your time," Qualley said. "Spring will be here before you know it."