Friday, February 28, 2003
Steamboat Springs When Nicole Lentz looked out the window of High Country Furniture and Gallery this week, she gazed into 4-foot-high snow piles.
The manager of the store on Ninth Street said customers had to scale the piles of snow to come into the store. The store dug a hole through the snow pile for customers to reach it, but if a car parked in front of the hole, customers had to walk along the street until they reached the corner, Lentz said.
"It has been really difficult," she said.
On a side street off Lincoln Avenue, the sidewalks in front of High Country Furniture were not cleared until Thursday from the aftermath of last week's snowstorms. It was almost a week, Lentz said, from the time the snow started falling until the streets were cleared. And before that, Lentz hadn't seen the streets cleaned in weeks.
"This is the worst I have seen it all year," Lentz said. "We had customers knee deep in snow, trying to climb over. When they tried to walk to the corner, it wasn't necessarily any better. It was a little frustrating."
Lentz has heard complaints from neighboring storeowners. Jim Weber, the city director of public works, has also heard the complaints.
The storm last weekend was the first time storeowners really felt the pain of the city's budget crunch. This October, the city decided to cut back on snow removal in downtown along Lincoln Avenue.
Weber said under the old system, the city would have cleared the sidewalks after every day the snow fell. With the budget cuts, it now has to wait until the snow stops, and the snow plows with it, before crews can focus on hauling out the snow.
"It was a big difference from what we had done in the last couple of years," Weber said.
In 1997, the city decided to upgrade its snow removal to clear streets after every major snow event. That increased the city's budget by $85,000 because the city had to contract trucks, equipment and drivers. Over the years, Hughes said, the number has been cut down to around $55,000.
In October, all city departments made a 2 percent cut in their budgets. The public works department decreased spending by cutting back on snow removal, summer paving and drainage maintenance.
In January, storeowners said the lack of sidewalk snow removal was not really a hardship. When the first major storm hit Steamboat in December, people noticed the shift in the city's policy. They made a flurry of calls to the city and then complaints tapered off.
It was after the December snowstorms that City Councilwoman Nancy Kramer brought up the idea of a special district for the downtown and mountain area. Kramer said special districts could provide services and amenities over and above the basic city services.
Along with increased snow removal, special districts could provide revitalization programs, special-event programming and marketing.
In a special district, Kramer said, the businesses would tax themselves.
Right now Kramer is meeting with City Manager Paul Hughes and has plans of approaching the Downtown Business Association and Mountain Business Association about the idea.
"We will certainly visit with those groups," Kramer said. "We want to see if there are problems that could be solved and if this is an appropriate mechanism."