ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Snow removal to stay the course in downtown Brainerd

City council members decided to keep the downtown's special services district in tact for this coming winter but agreed to explore alternative assessment methods for the future.

A snowplow operator clears sidewalks in the midst of snow flurries
A snowplow operator clears sidewalks in the midst of snow flurries in 2018 in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
We are part of The Trust Project.

BRAINERD — Snow removal services in downtown Brainerd will remain the same for at least another year.

City Council members unanimously accepted a bid from Tom’s Backhoe Service during their meeting Monday, Nov. 7, after hearing testimony about the benefits of the city’s special services district from downtown business owners.

The first to give support was Marie Kirsch, owner of Knotty Pine Bakery, which opened on Laurel Street in 2019.

“It’s invaluable to my business and to maintaining downtown Brainerd as a destination shopping district for the area,” Kirsch said.

The 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tom’s Backhoe continues to be the only contractor to submit bids for snow removal operations in downtown Brainerd. The city pays a lump sum for the first 4 inches of snowfall on roads, sidewalks, alleys and parking lots, and another fee for each additional inch.

The 4-inch base price from Tom’s Backhoe for this season is $6,184.57 for streets, alleys and parking lots, and $1,433 for sidewalks. Each additional inch during a snow event larger than 4 inches costs $1,734.72 for streets, alleys and parking lots, and $301.69 for sidewalks. These prices compare to base prices of $5,622.33 and $1,302.73, and additional inch prices of $1,577.01 and $274.26 last year.

More Brainerd City Council coverage
If allowed, alcohol sales and consumption would be limited to permitted events in the parks.
The policy would include temperature and directional light restrictions.
City staff will bring forth revisions in terms of dealing with long grass, unshoveled sidewalks, garbage and animal feces.
The measure affects Brainerd's residentially zoned neighborhoods.
The meeting will be at 3 p.m.
Brainerd City Council members favored exemptions for snowblowers from the city's noise ordinance. The mayor disagreed.
Parking will be banned from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20.
Council members directed to staff to draw up ordinance amendments that would allow residents to have four chickens on top of the other pets allowed.
Council members will discuss amendments on the number of pets, including chickens, allowed in the city.
The moratorium prohibiting the demolition of housing units for green space or parking lots in residential areas of the city will extend through mid-April.
The study will determine the feasibility of a pedestrian bridge across Highway 210 near Lum Park.
Kara Terry and Jeff Czeczok took the oath of office for their first term on the Brainerd City Council.
The nonprofit Brainerd Community Action works to connect community members with resources to accomplish their goals.
Parks Board members will talk about the issue at future meetings.
A public hearing for the project is set for the Brainerd City Council meeting on Feb. 21.
Property taxes are likely to go up because of a sharp increase in property values.
A second moratorium on the conversion of dwelling units in four of Brainerd’s zoning districts to green space or parking lots will take effect in mid-January.
Applications are available online or at City Hall.
A split vote shot down the proposal, which would eliminate on-street parking along the stretch of Oak Street.
The board reduced its original request of $400,000 for new lights down to $50,000 for an apparent "Band-Aid" approach.
The Brainerd City Council agreed to commit $200,000 to window and stair repairs on the tower.
The ordinance will now go back to the Planning Commission and must go through two readings and a public hearing at the council level before it can be approved.
The Brainerd City Council will set the final levy in December.
The city will use $35,000 of its COVID-19 relief funds for a feasibility study for the bridge.
The City Council approved the first reading of a new ordinance that would prohibit the demolition of dwelling units in most of Brainerd's residential neighborhoods, with few exceptions.
The council will have its final budget workshop at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28.
Brainerd City Council members approved several measures last week to further a housing project in west Brainerd.
The grants could provide funding for projects on Washington Street and South Sixth Street, along with a segment of the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail.
Jeff Czeczok beat out Justin Grecula for the open at-large seat on the Brainerd City Council.
Gabe Johnson won his third term on the Brainerd City Council representing Ward 4.

The total cost for sidewalk snow removal is assessed to property owners, while the costs for parking lots is covered by the city. Property owners also pay 53.42% of the costs for streets and alleys, with the city picking up the rest. Snow removal costs for 2021-22 totaled $100,730.52 for 60.5 inches of snow. Costs for sidewalks more than doubled from the 2018-19 season to last year, even though the seasons saw similar snowfall totals.

After discussing the prices last month and the fact that only one business bids on the contract each year, council members invited downtown business and property owners to provide feedback, with an option to eliminate the special services district on the table.

Kirsch laid out her thoughts in a memo to the council and reiterated them during the public forum Monday, saying she does not believe she or her landlord would be able to find a cost-effective snow removal option comparable to the level of service provided through the special services district.

It is an extra tax on downtown business owners — not for an extra service like sidewalk snow removal or flower beautification. Those are excellent. We should pay for those.
Ed Shaw

While city staff could theoretically take on the endeavor of clearing downtown, it would not be given the same level of priority as it is through the contract with Tom’s Backhoe, and the additional work would mean sacrificing timely plowing in other areas of town, according to city officials.

“As a small business, I have to compete with big box stores who are able to pay snow removal contractors to clear out parking lots/etc., and worry that removing this service from the downtown district would pose an obstacle for customers wanting to shop local,” Kirsch wrote to the council.

Fellow downtown business owners Theresa Woodward and Brenda Billman-Arndt shared similar thoughts as Kirsch. Woodward owns CatTale’s Books & Gifts on Laurel and said she is responsible for the parking lot behind her store but would not be able to complete the work herself at a lower cost than the assessment from the city.

ADVERTISEMENT

While noting the value of the district, Kirsch still encouraged the council to explore any cost-saving measures they could, suggesting a look into how much it would cost the city to purchase their own equipment and hire extra employees for the job.

Ed Menk, owner of E.L. Menk Jewelers, and Ed Shaw, who owns Sage on Laurel with his wife, Sarah Hayden Shaw, both supported the district but said there could be alternative methods of assessment.

Brainerd City Council - Nov.
Downtown business owner Ed Menk addresses the Brainerd City Council Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, about snow removal, while other downtown business owners listen in the audience.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Right now, property owners are assessed on a front footage basis, paying a specific rate per foot of sidewalk, street and alley that abuts their property. Menk proposed a square footage assessment system, which he said would be more fair to those with corner lots.

Shaw noted those who own property in downtown Brainerd already pay taxes for snow removal and street upkeep in the rest of the city — just as all property owners do — and then pay the special services district assessment on top of that.

“It is an extra tax on downtown business owners — not for an extra service like sidewalk snow removal or flower beautification. Those are excellent. We should pay for those,” Shaw said. “But street snow removal that everyone else gets included in their taxes, we don’t.”

Going forward, Shaw requested the council to consider street snow removal downtown to be handled the same way it is in other areas of the city but said he is happy to pay for extra items, like sidewalk snow removal and landscaping.

That idea of an extra tax has been a bone of contention with Steve and Lois Hensel, who own Loidé Oils & Vinegars, in recent years . Though the Hensels did not appear at Monday’s meeting, they sent a letter to the council formally contesting the assessed costs for services in the special services district from last year and requested the council thoroughly examine the negative impact of double taxation.

“The beautification of the City of Brainerd benefits every single person who enters the city,” the Hensels wrote in their statement, later saying most of their customers do not notice the flowers and have said the beautification efforts are not why they come downtown.

ADVERTISEMENT

Two other downtown property owners submitted letters supporting the special services district.

Council response

Council members Gabe Johnson and Mike O’Day said they supported the idea of looking into a square footage-based assessment, and Kevin Stunek said he liked Menk’s suggestion of at least moving to that model for corner lots.

Deciding it was too late in the season to make changes to the district at this point, council members accepted the bid from Tom’s Backhoe and agreed to discuss alternative assessment methods going forward.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

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.
What To Read Next
Photos and video from the winter event.
The school earned a $5,000 grant to help with equipment and materials for nursing assistant training.
The Wadena County Sheriff’s Office received a report at 10:11 a.m. of a vehicle on fire inside a detached garage at a residence in Shell River Township near Menahga.
The Wadena County Sheriff’s Office received a report at 7:59 a.m. of the crash, which occurred on Highway 71 just north of Hewitt.