MANKATO — The first snow emergency of every winter tends to be particularly miserable for on-street parkers in Mankato, many of whom don't get the message that vehicles must be off the streets to allow plows to clear the roads. But this one was doubly so — literally.
A big citywide tow is typically 100 to 150 vehicles. The first snow emergency of the 2016-17 winter sent a whole lot more to the impound lots.
"We issued 335 snow violations and actually towed 332," City Manager Pat Hentges told the City Council on Monday.
And that was before the special downtown snow emergency occurred late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. The downtown snow emergency that ended at 6 a.m. Tuesday added another 24 cars to the impound lots.
Along with a $25 parking citation, violators were facing a nearly 50 percent increase in impound fees from two years ago — to $107.88.
Combined, that means Mankato wallets will be $47,305 lighter after the last citation is paid and the last vehicle is collected from impound lots operated by Affordable Towing and All American Towing.
"We certainly don't want to see the towing of that many cars," Hentges said. "But it essentially allows us to get these streets plowed in a safe and effective manner."
Kent Reeves, owner of All American Towing which handles city towing south of Main Street, said he wasn't sure why so many more were towed following the weekend snowfall, which totaled about 6 inches.
"That's a good question," Reeves said. "I did talk to a number of the people who were towed. A lot of them, this was their first snow emergency."
That lack of familiarity with the rules, particularly in a college town that attracts thousands of newcomers each fall, is the reason the first snow emergency of the season results in more towing. After paying $132.88, most people learn their lesson and pay close attention to subsequent snow emergency announcements.
Another explanation is that Mankato became a lot more efficient at towing starting a year ago when it split the city between the two towing companies. In the past, one company was granted the city contract and had to cover the entire city.
And Council member Jason Mattick wondered if the day of the week was the problem. The snow emergency was announced early Sunday morning, warning people that ticketing and towing would begin at 10 p.m.
"Not that it's your fault, but I think a lot of people were just in a Sunday lull — Vikings or whatever," Mattick said. "So it caught a lot of people off-guard. It's unfortunate."
Finally, Reeves said he noticed towing of some vehicles that city streets department officials might have let slide in previous years. The vehicles were those that had been parked on streets where plows had already made a pass or two. In the past, those cases might have been forgiven with towing focused on cars that had been parked throughout the snowstorm and were surrounded by unplowed snow.
Hentges agreed that some people mistakenly believe they can resume parking on a street once they deem it's been plowed "curb to curb." That's the rule in some cities and was once the rule in Mankato, but the restrictions were simplified to prohibit parking until the snow emergency ends.
"We did have a few people confused on that," he said. "But that's been the case the last three years."
Along with the current practice of notifying the media of snow emergencies, posting the information on the city's website and using social media, Hentges said the city has persuaded Minnesota State University to forward the notifications to students. And, starting next year, snow emergency information will be given to landlords to pass on to renters.
Anyone can sign up for snow emergency alerts via texts by filling out the form on the city's website at www.mankatomn.gov. Once on the site, look for "City Services A to Z" and snow emergency alerts are listed under Customer Service.