Detroit Lakes balks at expanding sidewalk snow removal in 2023

Members of the Detroit Lakes budget committee discussed how much expanded sidewalk snow removal in the city would cost and then declined to include funding for the potential program expansion in the budget recommendations for 2023 during their most recent meeting on Aug. 25.

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Shawn King, public works director for Detroit Lakes, talks about budget concerns for the Detroit Lakes Public Works Department during a meeting of the city's budget committee on Aug. 25, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — The city of Detroit Lakes declined to allocate additional funds in the public works budget for an expanded sidewalk snow removal program during a meeting of the city's budget committee on Thursday.

During the Aug. 25 meeting, Shawn King, public works director for Detroit Lakes, said he tested out a 4-foot-wide sidewalk snow removal machine this spring and, while it included a plow, brush and blower, the machine costs about $200,000. Comparatively, he said, a new snowplow truck, with a salt brine attachment, costs about $270,000 for a single-axle vehicle.

"Obviously, for this budget, we don't have that piece of equipment in the budget," said Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes. "We talked a lot about doing different staffing, and we really couldn't ever get the numbers to work ... so for the sake of this budget, we left it out."

According to the city's snow removal ordinance, adopted in June 2008, commercial properties must have their sidewalks cleared of snow and ice within 24 hours of a snow fall event. Residential property owners with abutting sidewalks have 72 hours to clear their sidewalks after a snow fall event.

Concerns were raised by residents last winter over the sidewalk snow removal after notices began appearing on the doors of homeowners with uncleared sidewalks. Some people have pointed out that elderly and disabled residents may have trouble meeting the snow removal requirements .


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Klemm also said that snow removal compliance was "getting better" toward the end of the year as notices were being posted to homeowners.

"It all comes down to people who own their homes, regardless of where they may be, they are responsible for their property," said Ron Zeman, alderman first ward. "We're gonna go down a slippery slope here, if we start saying, for people who own their homes, we're going to be doing these services, and we're almost going to have to bill these people for those services, if they want that particular type of work done."

Currently, the city of Detroit Lakes has a total of 31 miles of sidewalks within the city limits and the Public Works Department manages the snow removal of sidewalks abutting all the city-owned properties, which totals nearly 8 miles of sidewalk. King said it takes a public works employee an entire day to clear just the city's 8-mile share of sidewalk and, if they needed to add an additional 23 miles, it would take four days to clear the entire route.

"We are already (removing sidewalk snow for) 25% of the sidewalks," said King. "Just to do the city portion, it is taking a full day to do the 7-and-3/4-mile, and of course, that depends on the amount of snow too. Some days, it only takes six hours and some days it could take a day-and-a-half, depending on the amount of snow we receive."

He also said the city maintains all of the multi-use trails within the city limits as well, and those trails are not included in the sidewalk totals.

According to data provided by public works, under the current city responsibility of 8 miles of sidewalk, the average cost of a 6-inch snow event is $1,560, which includes labor and equipment costs. If the city needed to remove the snow on all 31 miles of city sidewalk during a 6-inch snow event, the cost increases to $6,240 due to the increased labor time and equipment costs.

"We've got some significant increases in our overall city budget already," said Dan Wenner, alderman first ward. "New fire chief, insurance is going to take a significant jump this year, we've got salary negotiations going on for new contracts, and that's going to be coming, and everyone of these expenditures budgets that we've looked at so far has gone up quite a bit ... I've got no appetite for looking at adding a big expense to plow sidewalks at this point with our budget already increasing significantly."

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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