The city’s first run at residential snowplowing produced good results even as the program plowed through about one-third of its budget for the winter, Billings Public Works Director Dave Mumford said Wednesday.
Working around the clock for a week after 14 inches of snow fell on Christmas and into the New Year, operators aboard six CMG Construction graders worked to clear residential streets in six Billings districts in seven days, Mumford said.
Up until this winter, city crews did not plow residential streets, focusing mostly on arterial and collector streets. Last June, the Billings City Council allowed for clearing residential streets by assessing property owners about $8 each to pay for the enhanced service.
Mumford said the residential work took crews about a day longer than anticipated.
It took some operators a while to get the hang of navigating obstacles while clearing residential streets, Mumford said.
“Grading a construction site or gravel for a road is a lot different than plowing a narrow street with cars and finding where the curb is under 14 inches of snow,” he said. “They had to learn, but as far as I’m concerned they were outstanding operators. They did a great job and they didn’t hit anything in pretty close quarters.”
Because South Side streets are wider than roadways in other neighborhoods, operators began their work there. By the time they were done there, more snow had fallen. When they returned for more plowing they realized they were just "pulling up ice,” Mumford said.
Public Works officials consulted with Councilman Mike Yakawich, who represents the South Side in Ward 1, then decided to leave the area and move on.
Mumford said his department heard complaints from “the one-half of one percent” of residents who were dissatisfied with residential plowing efforts.
“You don’t really hear from people who are happy with the work,” he said. “After doing this for a while, you try your best to please people, but there are always some who won’t be.”
While Mumford praised operators’ efforts and persistence, he said one lesson learned is that Public Works officials can do better at keeping residents up to date on when and where snowplow operators will be clearing their streets.
“We need to do better working with social media” and with traditional media outlets, he said. The department used its Facebook page and other outlets to alert residents of impending street-clearing efforts, but had a difficult time keeping the information fresh, Mumford said.
“People wanted to know where (snowplows) were all the time so they could get their cars off the street,” he said. “This is part of the learning curve. We will try to be a lot more diligent about letting people know.”
While the final accounting is not yet complete, Mumford said he expects the bill to be about $150,000, leaving at least $270,000 remaining in a special fund for future residential snowplowing.
“We’re good for at least two more storms,” he said. “We hope the majority of big storms are done, but if necessary, we’ll use reserves.”
He said the money not spent on residential snowplowing will lead to reduced street maintenance fees assessed during the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1.
More than two weeks after the storm, the city’s street maintenance crews continue their work hauling snow, clearing storm drains and picking up snow berms. They’re also concentrating on clearing trails and digging out ramps constructed at intersections that help people with disabilities and others to cross the street.
“The good part,” he said, “is that there is always work to do.”