Nearly 36 inches of snow has fallen in Cut Bank since September, according to the U.S. Weather Service, breaking the old record of 17 inches set in 1930. It’s no wonder local residents are struggling to maneuver the residential areas of town and some streets in the business district.
City officials understand your frustration and are working to clear the streets with the equipment and manpower they have, but with the recent snow events, they simply don’t have what they need, explained Mayor Dan Raemaeker.
In an effort to educate residents on the “how” and “why” of city street maintenance during snow events, we posed the most common complaints we hear to Mayor Raemaeker and City Superintendent Jim Suta.
Why isn’t the City crew out working?
The simple answer is, they are. According to Mayor Raemaeker, crew members belong to a union and, under the terms of their union contract, “The City is not allowed to require the crew to work more than eight hours unless there is an emergency.”
Mayor Raemaeker continued, “Even if the crew members were willing to work more than an eight-hour shift, the problem the City would have would be paying for it. The City’s street maintenance budget is tight and lacks the needed funds for unbudgeted overtime.”
This week, crewmembers are working their eight-hour shifts starting at 4 a.m., said Raemaeker.
“Once you remove personnel for the water plant, the sewer plant, and garbage, the maximum number of crew members available for dealing with snow is six. Many days, Supt. Jim Suta may only have three or four due to vacation, illness, or family emergencies,” he explained.
“We have been plowing and hauling snow with all of our equipment…but with storms like this and our equipment and manpower limitations, there is no way to keep up with the snowfall and the blowing, drifting snow,” added Suta.
When is the City going to clear my street?
While it may not seem like it at times, Mayor Raemaeker said Supt. Suta and his crew have a definite plan of attack and priority list when it comes to clearing the City’s streets and avenues of snow.
Top priority is the City’s “Snow Route,” which includes the immediate streets and avenues around the schools, hospital, Main Street, Railroad Street, Second Street, Seventh Ave. SE (because it allows access the hospital), Central Avenue and First Street North.
When that’s done, the crew moves to the Cut Bank Business District and then residential areas.
Mayor Raemaeker, noted, that plan, however, is subject to change and interruptions, based on the need to “remove piles of snow around town, especially if the piles are protruding into the driving lanes and any emergencies that occur.”
What takes the City so long to clear the streets?
Lack of adequate equipment is the biggest hurdle facing the City crew, said Raemaeker.
“The equipment the City has to handle snow removal is one plow truck, which is an undersized 1-ton pickup with a plow to handle large accumulations, two loaders, and three dump trucks to haul the snow. The City is in need of a $30,000 plow to mount on one of the existing trucks that will significantly speed up clearing of the snow route and speed the entire progression of snow cleanup,” he pointed out.
Suta put the $30,000 plow on his wish list for fiscal year 2019-20, pointing out to the City Council the purchase would mean an increase in the street maintenance fees paid by city taxpayers. The City Council balked at raising the street maintenance fees, stating the citizens of Cut Bank made it clear they did not want to see their taxes go up after the recent increases in the their monthly sewer and water bills.
Raemaeker said City officials are looking at ways to fund the purchase of the plow in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
For now, Suta said, “We are doing the best we can with what we have available.”