Dexter Jensen has an idea to help replenish the city’s residential snowplowing coffers — five and 10 dollars at a time.
Last weekend, Jensen, an outside sales representative with Modern Machinery and the owner of a window-tinting shop called The Tint Guy, launched a social media poll to find out whether respondents would be willing to pitch in a little to help replenish the city’s residential snowplowing fund.
That fund will be overspent after accounting for the current residential plowing work being completed Monday by the city’s private contractor, CMG Construction.
Jensen said he was surprised so many poll-takers — 78 percent of the 64 respondents as of mid-afternoon Monday — said they’d fork over some cash if it meant continuing to keep residential streets plowed during what’s been to date the snowiest winter on record.
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“Some people said they’d be willing to throw in $20, $50 or $100,” Jensen said. “People love to gripe about what’s not being done, but this is a platform for what is being done right. People are tired of the snow, but they appreciate the effort on the part of the city and the contractor.”
Many respondents are Jensen’s customers and clients, he acknowledged, along with a sprinkling of other Billings residents and a handful who live outside Billings. He said he’s downplaying that final category of online voters.
The city’s street maintenance crews plow Billings’ arterial and collector streets, but not residential streets. As part of the 2017-18 budget, the Billings City Council approved $420,000 to pay for residential plowing, amounting to a cost of about $8 per Billings homeowner.
Online comments to Jensen’s poll were all over the map. One commenter said, “There will never be a perfect solution. Plow the side streets, and bury the cars and driveways. Don’t plow the side streets, and everybody … complains about how terribly their ’96 Taurus gets around.”
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Another asked, “Where do I donate? I get paid on Tuesday.”
“Everyone is enjoying the fact that their residential streets are being plowed,” Jensen said, “and so instead of pushing for a levy we wondered if there’s a way people could just donate.”
After four passes through residential neighborhoods so far this winter, the fund was near depletion late last week, according to Public Works Director Dave Mumford. Additional funding will have to come from the department’s reserve fund, he said.
Mumford said Monday he appreciates people’s willingness to donate, but that his department’s reserve funds are sufficient to cover any more residential plowing required this winter.
“I’d encourage people that if they like (the residential plowing), let the council know so that next year they can continue to do it,” Mumford said. “They’d need to come up with $90,000 for another round of residential plowing, and I can’t imagine that would happen. But their support is greatly appreciated.”
Billings’ forecast for next winter includes snow plowing.
Andy Zoeller, Billings' interim finance director, said the city can accept donations and track how they're spent. A recent example, he said, is the large number of private donations given last year to construct and open the Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive Site.
Mumford said CMG crews were out completing their residential snowplowing rounds Monday. The city’s street maintenance crews will work their final 12-hour shifts Monday, then return to eight-hour days beginning Tuesday.
“Everyone,” Mumford said, “can use a respite.”
Jensen said residential plowing this winter has made a difference in his neighborhood, the Wilshire Heights subdivision below Zimmerman Trail.
“I live at the base some steep hills. Last year, five or seven cars would park in front of my house, and they’d have to walk up the hill, or I’d give them a ride,” he said. “This year it’s been really nice. Not one of my neighbors has had those problems.”
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