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Snowy car

A snow covered car on Fifth Avenue South in Billings stands as evidence of the second coldest February on record.

Billings expended its residential plowing budget this week and, with more snow forecast for this weekend, it will be dipping into reserves in order to keep up. 

The Billings City Council approved a $445,000 annual residential street plowing initiative in 2017 and, as of this weekend, the city has spent roughly $450,000 on residential plowing this winter.

With another winter storm in the offing, the public works department will request from City Council on Monday night a budget amendment so it can dip into reserves to finish plowing this season. 

"We'll see what this weekend brings," said Jennifer Duray, deputy public works director.

Last year, which was the first year the plowing initiative was in effect, the city spent $437,000 to clear residential streets. While more snow in total fell last year, the near-constant snowfall through much of February and into March this year kept crews busier.

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"They're tired right now," Duray said. "They are fatigued."

The city maintains two separate budgets for snow removal. The first is for plowing the city's main arterial roads and the second is the new residential plowing budget.

City crews work to clear the main roads, and contractors are tasked with the neighborhoods. Residential plowing is handled by crews from FirstMark Construction, which is two years into its three-year contract with the city. Next year, when the contract ends, FirstMark will have the option to renew for two more years. 

Duray said her office is crunching the numbers now to see where it's at on its arterial snow removal budget and should know more next week; there's been a lot of overtime, she said. 

When public works has to dip into reserves to cover an especially snowy winter, it can reduce the budget for some summer projects. Asphalt repair or smaller-scale road construction projects are usually put on hold for a year.

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