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City Council discusses snow, streets and sidewalks

Despite several small storms, the city of Morris has not called a snow emergency this winter season. Leaving cars on the street can make it difficult for city plow drivers to clear the streets and for residents to get their vehicles free, as this car on west Fifth Street illustrates. City Manager Blaine Hill shares information about the city’s snow policies on page A6.

MORRIS – Does Morris have a problem with snow on streets and sidewalks? The answer, unsurprisingly, depends on who you ask.

Morris resident Jerry Lesmeister told the Morris City Council on Tuesday that something needs to be done about the city’s sidewalk ordinance – get rid of it or enforce it.

“Something has to change because it’s not getting done, it’s not effective,” said Lesmeister. “We do a lot of walking – you walk half way down a block, half of it’s shoveled the other half’s not shoveled you have to jump out into the street. It’s public safety.”

Section 7.05 of the Morris City Code states that residents have 12 hours after the end of a storm to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks on their property. If the snow or ice is not removed in 24 hours, the city may remove the snow and assess the cost back to the property owner.

City Manager Blaine Hill said the city doesn’t have the manpower to enforce every ordinance, including the sidewalk ordinance. To enforce the ordinance, Hill said a city staff member would have to identify property owners with non-complying sidewalks, send them a letter, do a follow-up inspection, clear the sidewalk, then send the property owner a bill for the work.

“We don’t have the resources to be able to do it all the time so we have to do the best we can do identify it,” said Hill. “It’s a very complex process and it has to be that way otherwise legally we can’t take action against the property owners.”

Council member Kevin Wohlers asked whether there was a way to “short circuit” the process to address “habitual abusers” or property owners who repeatedly don’t clear their sidewalks.

Council member Bill Storck noted that the council talks about this issue each year and agreed with Wohlers that the city should put some teeth into the ordinance for areas that are a chronic problem.

“The bottom line is nobody is complaining about this,” Hill responded. “Jerry comes and complains, there is one other person that has called me about sidewalks, that’s it. The majority of people in town know and understand that we live in Minnesota, we have snow, you have to figure out how to walk.”

“The common sense approach is that as a general rule in the city of Morris most of the sidewalks are taken care of in a reasonable timeframe and that’s what I look at – we don’t have a major problem with sidewalks not being done,” Hill continued.

The council also discussed the city’s snow alert policy.

Under Section 9.08 of the Morris City Code, the city can declare a snow alert no later than 5 p.m. the day before the alert will take effect. During a snow alert, residents cannot park vehicles on city streets. Vehicles parked on streets will be towed and residents will need to pay the cost of towing, the ticket, and an administrative fee. Outside of a snow alert, it’s also unlawful to leave a car parked in one place for more than 24 hours.

The city has not declared a snow alert during this winter season.

“There are a couple places on the west side that have never been plowed on the side because of vehicles – why aren’t we towing them away?” asked Storck.

Hill said the city has been using the 24-hour parking ordinance to issue warnings for cars that clearly haven’t been moved since plows last went through the city which should get them to move off the streets.

“We’re trying to avoid towing all these cars and then forcing people to pay the tows and go get their cars,” said Hill.

Police Chief Ross Tiegs said the city regularly tows more than 100 cars during the first snow alert of the year.

Council member Brian Solvie noted it must be difficult for renters who have more cars than off-street parking spaces available to comply with the ordinance.

“People that have houses for rent should provide parking,” Storck said.

Hill said staff believe it is more effective to educate residents about getting cars off the streets during emergencies rather than initiating the snow alert towing procedure.

Mayor Sheldon Giese closed out the conversation: “This is Minnesota and it is wintertime, so you have to remember that.”

Other business

  • The Morris Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed Neighborhood Commercial Zoning District on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 5:15 p.m. The Planning Commission has been working on the new district since late last fall.