Brainerd City Council to take fresh look at downtown snow removal

While inflation undoubtedly accounts from some of the price increase, City Engineer/Public Works Director Jessie Dehn said costs also depend on the amount of snow that falls at a time.

Snow falls on Laurel Street Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in downtown Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

BRAINERD — Not long after the first flakes of the season flew in Brainerd, City Council members discussed snow removal in the downtown area.

With contracted plowing costs rising exponentially over the past several years, council members will hear input from members of the public on the downtown special services district during their next meeting Nov. 7.

The city’s downtown special services district includes the area of Laurel Street between South Sixth and Eighth streets, Front Street between South Sixth and Eighth streets, and South Seventh Street between Maple and Front streets. Property owners in that area are assessed each year for snow removal, irrigation maintenance, landscaping and garbage collection, all services either provided by the city or contracted through the city.

All of the costs for snow removal on sidewalks are assessed to property owners, and all of the costs for parking lots are covered by the city’s parking lot fund. Property owners are assessed for 53.42% of the costs for streets and alleys, while the city pays the rest.

While the city requests bids for downtown plowing costs each year, only one company — Tom’s Backhoe — typically responds to the request and secures the contract.


Total downtown snow removal costs totaled $100,730.52 for 60.5 inches of snow during the 2021-22 winter season. The 2018-19 season saw similar snowfall at 59 inches and a total cost of $92,830.32. The sidewalk costs, however, more than doubled from just under $16,000 in 2018-19 to $35,577.21 in 2021-22. Costs for snow removal from streets and parking lots decreased from $76,873.35 in 2018-19 to $65,153.31 in 2021-22.

Members of the City Council’s Personnel and Finance Committee noted during their meeting Monday, Oct. 17, the steep hike from prices two decades ago. Total snow removal costs for 33.5 inches of snow in the downtown area were just shy of $25,000 in 2000-01 — $3,417 for sidewalks and $21,573.50 for streets and parking lots.

“It makes sense to look at this at this point because the one contractor that keeps being the only contractor is raising prices every year,” Committee Chair Mike O’Day said, noting it’s understandable these costs might be scaring people away from investing in downtown Brainerd.

While inflation undoubtedly accounts from some of the price increase, City Engineer/Public Works Director Jessie Dehn said costs also depend on the amount of snow that falls at a time. The contract typically includes a set fee for removing the first 4 inches of snow and another fee for each additional inch. That means the cost of two 4-inch snowfall events would be different from the cost of one 8-inch snowfall event.

Understanding those differences, Mayor Dave Badeaux still questioned the high increases, especially the sidewalk costs from 2018-19 to last year.

Council members sit in chambers
Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux, left, and Personnel and Finance Committee members Mike O'Day, Jamie Bieser and Tad Erickson discuss downtown snow removal costs during their meeting Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“That’s not inflation, that’s just an increase in cost,” he said. “And if that’s the case, then what are our solutions?”

Council members are not the only ones who have questioned rising costs in recent years. Dehn compiled a list of questions and concerns city officials heard on the topic last year, which include:

  • Is there a different way to split the costs in the special services district?
  • The ordinance establishing the district has not been evaluated since put in place in 1990.
  • Accepting bids from the same contractor with rising costs each year is unfair.
  • Landscaping and beautification efforts benefit everyone downtown, not just business owners.

On the other hand, some community members advocated last year for the services provided in the downtown district, saying many business owners do not have the time to dedicate to snow removal and the other services, which are vital to the accessibility, cleanliness and safety of downtown Brainerd.


Options moving forward

City Council members have the authority to change the cost sharing splits between the city and downtown business owners for the special services or to eliminate the district altogether if they see fit.

Dehn reiterated Monday what staff has told the council before in terms of snow removal downtown. If the city takes over that service instead of contracting it out, it likely would not get done in as timely of a manner, and it would slow down snow removal in other areas of the city. Depending on the time of snowfall, Dehn said the downtown area is typically cleared by about noon on the day snow falls.

Without the special services contract, downtown property owners would have to shovel their own sidewalks in a timely manner without shoveling the snow out into the street, just as residential property owners.

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The street department, Dehn said, would treat downtown like the rest of the city, piling windrows into the middle of the roads for a day or two before being able to remove it.

When council member Jamie Bieser asked if there are conversations between the city and the contractor about bids when they are received, Dehn said bids are typically sealed and not negotiated, and he said he has not spoken with anyone from Tom’s Backhoe about the costs.

While O’Day said Tom’s Backhoe does a great job with the downtown snow removal each year, if it’s a cost the downtown property owners no longer want to pay for, then the city should move away from it.

Public hearing

Those who want to share their opinions on the downtown special services district can do so at the next council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at City Hall.After hearing from residents and property owners, council members are expected to make a decision on the district going forward.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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