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Bus stop students

A First Student bus picks up students on 54th Street West in January 2017.

Billings’ forecast for next winter includes snow plowing.

It’s not a final decision, but after a lengthy discussion Monday night, Billings City Council members reached consensus that the city should do some plowing of the city’s 360 miles of residential streets.

The council needs to build residential snow plowing into the annual budget, so the city will be better prepared if next winter brings big snowfalls like this past winter did.

The Public Works Department has presented a plan that’s definitely worth trying: If the city budgets $425,000, it would have enough money to contract for plowing residential streets when 3 inches or more snow accumulates. The money would pay for plowing after five such storms.

Public Works also recommends using “snow gate” attachments on plows to reduce snow berms at residential driveways.

This reasonable plan, developed by our local street plowing experts, would cost residential property owners about $10, including $1.38 for the one-time purchase of $90,000 worth of snow gates. If the council approves, that $10 charge would be added to the street maintenance fee that appears on the annual tax statements mailed in November.

To those of us who struggled to drive over deep piles of snow and steer through rutted, icy snow-packed streets from early December through February, this plan is a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t pay $10 to avoid getting stuck next winter? Who wants to call a tow truck to get out of snowbank?

People need to get to work and school on time. Unplowed streets are major obstacles to getting around this city safely and expeditiously. First Student buses couldn’t get through some streets to pick up students. Billings Public Schools was forced to use alternate bus routes for much of the winter.

Some council members voiced concerns about figuring out exactly when to plow. They should not try to micromanage this work. Leave the plowing decisions to the experts who already decide when and how to plow downtown and the city’s arterial streets.

Budget for residential snow plowing, add the charge to street maintenance fees and evaluate the program a year from now.

If the winter of 2017-2018 turns out to be a low-snow season and the plowing money isn’t spent on hiring private contractors, it can and should be saved for the next winter. Public Works Director Dave Mumford told the council that money budgeted for contract work and unspent can be carried over till the next budget year.

Many Billings residents have voiced their frustration with the snow-clogged streets last winter. They’ve demanded action from the council. It’s time to raise that demand one more time: Let your council members know that you want them to budget for plowing your streets next winter.

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