Although Minneapolis and St. Paul share the same harsh winters, the two cities differ in how they enforce ordinances requiring property owners to shovel sidewalks.
Both cities will send work crews to clear sidewalks at property owners' expense if they aren't shoveled. But last winter, the smaller city of St. Paul cleared more sidewalks, assessed higher fees against scofflaws and focused more on repeat offenders, according to data received by MPR News.
The city of St. Paul had 1,079 incidents where city crews cleared snow on private sidewalks compared to 741 in Minneapolis.
The way the cities assess fees against property owners who don't shovel also differs. St. Paul charged property owners fees of almost $300,000 for the work last winter, which included both code enforcement and snow abatement fees, as opposed to a little more than $130,000 charged to Minneapolis property owners.
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Fined properties in St Paul
● up to $300 ● $300 to $600 ● $600 to $900 ● more than $900
Source: city of St Paul Click to view full screen
Steve Magner, manager of St. Paul's Property Code Enforcement division, said comparing the two cities operations could be difficult. But Magner said St. Paul's goal is to take action as quickly as possible when unshoveled sidewalks are reported.
"To us, when we have these situations, we treat this as a priority, we get the crews out there to clean the walks," Magner said. "So that someone who is not as ambulatory or is in a wheelchair or some other limiting factor, it gives them the right to traverse the walks just like anyone else."
Another reason for the difference in how enforcement plays out could be that different workers are responsible for clearing the snow.
In Minneapolis, public works crews, already burdened with all sorts of other tasks, are responsible for clearing snow off sidewalks. If everything functions like it's supposed to, an uncleared walkway would be cleared by work crews at the owner's expense in a space of days. But as one example from southwest Minneapolis identified by MPR News in November shows, Minneapolis' process from the original complaint to the actual clearing of the walk can sometimes stretch for weeks.
In St. Paul, the parks division employs work crews who clear the sidewalks.
In the vast majority of cases, the process for starting a complaint about an uncleared sidewalk is received through St. Paul's city information hotline at 651-266-8989, which is similar to Minneapolis' process of receiving complaints through the city's 311. Both cities also rely on inspectors to sometimes report unshoveled walks while they handle other business.
Although the assessments in both Minneapolis and St. Paul were concentrated in poorer areas, both managers of the programs said that any clustering was likely only because those were areas where more complaints were lodged.
Numbers from last winter show that St. Paul focused more on problem properties. St. Paul data listed up to eight assessments at one property last winter, while the most at a Minneapolis property was six. St. Paul also reaches out to repeat offenders.
"If we have an owner where we have repeated attempts, we're going to try to make some inroads as to why they're not doing it," Magner said. "We're going to visit the business or call the owners -- we're going to try to some other way to get their attention."
Those who find it difficult to shovel their sidewalk can find help by calling the Minnesota Board on Aging's Senior LinkAge line at 1-800-333-2433 or the state's Disability Linkage Line at 1-866-333-2466.
Document: How the city of St Paul deals with ice/snow removal complaints