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The Squabble Over Snow Gates

September 4, 2010, 10:52 PM by David Brown

The Squabble Over Snow Gates
SIOUX FALLS, SD - The calendar may say it's fall, but winter was on people's minds Saturday in Sioux Falls. The city's recent purchase of two snow gates at nearly $6,000 each isn't sitting well with all city leaders. Mayor Mike Huether says it's a practical investment, while city council members say he violated policy. And this debate won't blow over any time soon.

At his weekly meeting with the public, Mayor Mike Huether and Public Works Director Mark Cotter touched on a number of issues, including the recent purchase of two snow gates. The snow plow attachments are designed to prevent snow from accumulating at the end of people's driveways

"This is a good and prudent investment in the city," Mayor Huether said.  "We are only taking $12,000 out of a $300 million budget in the spirit of finding out whether there's a better way to do snow removal in our town."

But not everyone is excited. Sioux Falls city council member Michelle Erpenbach says money for snow gates was not in the 2010 budget, approved last year.

"What we want to do is make sure that when council sets policy, the administration follows the policy," Erpenbach said.  "And by making this move, whether it's $12,000 or $12,000,000, they're violating council policy and that's the issue."

Mayor Huether acknowledges snow gates weren't originally part of the plan, but he says now's the time to test them out.

"We have an opportunity to identify if there's a better way to remove snow in Sioux Falls," Huether said.  "It is something that has been used in other communities and we can learn as well."

But Erpenbach say the purchase doesn't make sense. She argues the city's public works department has been firmly against snow gates for years and that this is the first time it's approved them.

"As I campaigned this year, I campaigned on information that was provided to me by the public works department that says snow gates don't work after two inches of snow and that it wouldn't work in Sioux Falls on a regular basis," Erpenbach said.

"Until we actually do the test here, likely, we're not going to close this debate," Public Works Director Mark Cotter said.  "And it's important, I think, for this community, after debating about something for so long, let's make a small investment, let's make those attachments and we'll do a fair and honest test."

Regardless of how much snow is swept away, Erpenbach's concerned about the precedent this could set over the winters to come. 

"When they're asking us to approve the budget and to approve the appropriation for the year, what then are we to believe?" Erpenbach said.  "Are they going to follow what we tell them we want them to do? Or are they just randomly, in the middle of the year, going to decide it doesn't matter what council says, we're just going to do what we want to do?"

Mayor Huether says only a few council members have a problem with buying the snow gates. Erpenbach says she doesn't care how much they cost. In this economy, every dollar counts.

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