Billings code enforcer urges neighborly approach to snow removal

2013-12-11T00:00:00Z 2013-12-12T07:32:07Z Billings code enforcer urges neighborly approach to snow removalBy CHRIS CIOFFI The Billings Gazette

Larry Jones, 73, has lived on Lewis Avenue in Billings since 1977 and has never had so much as a parking ticket.

"I'm very conscientious of doing the right thing," Jones said.

He is a Marine Corps veteran, and he brings books to the Veterans Administration clinic for patients to read while in treatment.

He has tended to his yard in the summer for more than 30 years, and after every snowstorm, he's gone out and used his 5-horsepower snowblower to clear the sidewalk on his corner lot.

He's even helped clear neighbors' sidewalks if they were unable.

That changed a few years ago. He's had two heart attacks, and he's struggling with diabetes.

It's a struggle to even get his Texas-sized snowblower out of the garage these days.

"I can't do it anymore, physically," he said.

After last week's snowstorm, he was unable to get his walks cleared.

By Thursday the snow had subsided and his un-shoveled sidewalks had been reported to Billings City Code Enforcement.

"It was Saturday, no more than two days after, that I got a citation," he said.

"I was angry," he said, "but I also felt bad."

He wanted to clear his sidewalks and certainly didn't want to break the rules, he said, he just couldn't.

The grandson of a neighbor helped Jones get it done on Saturday.

Section 22-406 of the Billings City Code governs snow removal. It requires residents to remove the snow from city sidewalks 24 hours after a storm subsides.

It also suggests that people who plan to report their neighbors' violations should check and offer assistance before they report them.

That doesn't always happen.

Since January, 95 violations have been confirmed by inspectors and the homeowner has had a notice sent in the mail or stuck in the door giving them 10 days to clear their sidewalks. Since Dec. 3, 19 notices have been logged.

There’s a 24-hour rule, but that’s not realistic after this type of storm, said Don Vegge, one of two city code enforcement officers.

"It was a wet snow, the snow turned to ice and it got to be a real bugaboo out here," he said.

After a complaint is logged, an inspector goes out and confirms the violation and a notice to remedy is sent.

"It could be easily be a week or a week and a half before it gets done," Vegge said.

Fines are hardly, if ever, given for code violations.

"I don’t recall ever issuing one, maybe years ago," he said.

It's not about fining people, it's about making sure the city is a safe place to walk around in.

"We try to work with people to get things done in a reasonable time and a good manner," he said.

Sometimes Vegge tries to find somebody or a group to go and help older residents shovel their walks, but that all takes time.

But it's tough for two inspectors to make a whole city clear.

"Some people want it done immediately and that’s just not going to happen," he said.

"That’s not the real world in code enforcement."

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