Shoveling time

In this file photo, a person in the 1000 block of West Platinum Street shovels the walk following a snowstorm in 2014. The county is enforcing an ordinance strengthened in 2014 that requires sidewalks to be shoveled and cleared of snow, ice and slush.

Butte-Silver Bow is actively enforcing an ordinance strengthened in 2014 that requires sidewalks to be shoveled and cleared of snow, ice and slush.

They haven’t fined anyone yet, although that day might come.

“We are taking it as an educational approach right now but that’s not saying we aren’t going to (fine). If it comes to last-ditch efforts, we are going to write tickets,” said John Moodry, assistant director of the Community Enrichment Department.

“We are not trying to be the heavy hand of the law and out to write tickets,” he said, but the county has taken enforcement “another level up.”

Safety concerns are behind the new emphasis, he said.

The county has long required that sidewalks be shoveled, but commissioners added fines to the local law in June 2014 at the urging of then-Chief Executive Matt Vincent and Public Works officials. They said the ordinance needed teeth.

Public Works was responsible for enforcement the past few years, but Community Enrichment — which oversees building and code enforcement, among other things — has taken it on this winter.

Public Works has no background in enforcement, Moodry said, so they usually only responded to complaints by reminding individuals and businesses about the ordinance.

Devin McCarthy, a county code enforcement officer, has been doing the same thing in response to complaints since snow started flying last fall.

But he’s also been noting unshoveled walks himself, especially those in front of businesses and along primary streets such as Harrison, Front and Park, to name a few. Attention also have been given to areas around schools.

“I usually find out who owns the business and walk in and talk to the manager or owner and explain the ordinance,” he said. “Usually after you ask them to shovel, it’s done that night or first thing the next morning. Everyone has been easy to get along with and it’s done pretty quickly.”

They have monitored areas around schools more closely, too, but they are handling most residential areas on a complaint-driven basis for now, Moodry said.

The ordinance requires owners or tenants to keep walks clear of snow, ice, slush, mud or other impediments. People have 24 hours following the end of new snowfalls to have walks cleared.

Officials will issue written warnings first, with first violations after that carrying a $50 fine, $100 for a second offense and $150 for each subsequent offense.

McCarthy said he is talking to people first and because of cooperation so far, he hasn’t even issued any formal warnings.

Under the ordinance, people aged 65 or older or those with a documented disability are exempt from clearing walks if their income is 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less. For an individual, that means anyone making $18,090 or less. It is $36,900 for a family of four.

For those who qualify, the county is responsible for finding volunteers to clear their walks. It is up to homeowners, business owners or tenants, however, to inform the county if their walks are still not cleared.

Anyone with questions can call McCarthy at 406-497-6474.

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Government and politics reporter

Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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