Snow ordinance, tax abatement discussed at city council meeting

Published 7:26 am Thursday, September 5, 2019

Emergency snow removal ordinances and parking was one of the subjects of conversation during Monday night’s work session.

Although there wasn’t too much on the regular meeting agenda, there were some highlights that happened during the Austin City Council meeting.

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During the work session, City Engineer Steve Lang talked about the proposed snow removal  ordinance to help account for the exorbitant amount of snowfall that Minnesota experienced last winter, as well as enforcing stricter parking rules.

The proposed ordinance included rules for snow emergencies from Nov. 15 through March 15:

•No on-street parking in downtown between 1-7 a.m.

•Alternate side (even/odd) parking between 12:01 a.m. and 8 p.m. (changeover of vehicles could occur from 8 p.m. to midnight with no enforcement during that time)

•Ticketing fine of $25 for parking violations

These same rules could apply for any snow emergency declared outside of the Nov. 15 through March 15 timeframe. The ordinance was created because of the snowfall, but also in response to residents not obeying snow emergency parking regulations that made it difficult for emergency vehicles and school buses to pass by on narrow roadways.

However, not all of the city council members were supportive of implementing an ordinance in response to the harsh winter that Minnesota experienced. They stated that their constituents thought a stricter ordinance would be “overkill” in what was a response to “one bad winter.”

Helle noted that those who have to park on the streets would be affected by the ordinance and would be adversely more impacted.

“We might have four to five families parking on the streets,” she said. “We need to benefit everybody, and this would affect people who just park on the streets. I think it’s a good ordinance, but where are those people going to be parking? We can be more aggressive and give some more education.”

Officials also noted that they received complaints from constituents about parking during snow emergencies, noting that there was inconsistent enforcement of parking that led to residents not following regulations to begin with.

“This is a problem,” said Councilman Steve King. “We don’t get a lot done when there’s cars on both sides of the narrow road. This is a problem.”

When Austin asked Lang why the specific timeframe for parking, Lang stated that this was the identified timeframe when plows can get started on clearing the snow from the streets.

“I would be concerned with moving the time,” he said. “Once you get behind, it’s hard to catch up.”

The council voted not to move ahead with putting the proposed ordinance on the council agenda for the next meeting, noting that they needed more time to see if another severe winter could warrant stricter regulation.

City budget and tax levy

Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert shared with the council that some changes were made to the proposed 2020 budget and tax levy increase based on last month’s work session and a meeting that was held with Mower County regarding joint operations of the Law Enforcement Center. Dankert stated that these changes maintained the 2020 proposed tax levy of $7.15 million, or a 4.03 percent increase from the 2019 levy of $6.873 million. This means a $277,000 tax revenue increase.

The changes included:

•$50,000 of wages/benefits for the Austin Fire Department’s staffing request

•Balancing out transfers from the Fire PERA fund with a net of $30,000 revenue, instead of $50,000

•Reduced Joint Powers Services in the Austin Police Department by $20,000 for expenses of joint operations of the Law Enforcement Center based on new budget documents the county provided.

The Joint LEC Committee had also got a request from Mower County to fund an additional two dispatchers (with the city paying 50 percent of the additional staffing costs). During budgeting, Chief David McKichan and Dankert worked on staffing costs, maintenance agreements and were able to lower the planned budgeting for the LEC and add an additional dispatcher.

Though there’s not enough funding for an additional two dispatchers, it’s possible that this could be revisited in future budgeting years. The council needs to set the proposed levy and proposed budget at its next meeting on Sept. 16.