When it snows it dumps.
A storm that produced 9.7 inches of fresh powder within a 24-hour period—that's two more inches than average for the entire month of February—left many locals grumbling this week as we shoveled sidewalks, scraped windshields and, with our fingers crossed, trekked across town on some seriously slick roads. Not since Feb. 6, 1975, when 14.4 inches fell, has the Garden City seen so much snowfall at one time.
While it looks like it will continue to be a lucrative winter for area auto repair shops, the rest of us are paying the price. In fact, two different Indy staffers recently fell victim to the snow-packed streets. A truck that slid out of control off South Avenue while carrying, ironically, a plow blade hit one staffer's small Subie. Days later, the driver of a Chevy truck lost control outside the Independent's offices and punched a good-sized hole in another staffer's Pathfinder.
Nearly $4,000 in repairs later, we understand the impulse to complain about Missoula's barely plowed streets. The loudest grumbles, though, are coming from city hall. The bills for street maintenance are piling up as fast as the snow. By December, funds tagged for plowing and deicing Missoula's 300-plus miles of pavement had already been drained. As of January 17, overtime accrued by plow drivers was already more than three times the season's entire $4,950 budget. Fuel and material costs—the lion's share of Missoula's snow-removal budget—were also on the way to far surpassing expectations. Municipal number crunchers project by the end of the season Missoula's plowing and deicing budget will run roughly $130,000, or 27 percent over projections.
In order to keep snowplows running through the winter, Mayor John Engen asked all city departments to shave 1 percent from their budgets. Savings will be forwarded into the plowing pot, along with taxes generated through Missoula's newly created special districts.
There's a crusted layer of irony in all of this. The moaning over Missoula's unplowed streets comes as our representatives in Helena and Washington, D.C., indiscriminately slash budgets, justified by fervent calls—locally and across the country—for smaller government and lower taxes. But shrinking government until it's rendered completely ineffectual will only lead to more criticism of government—and more budget cuts.
Here's a radical notion: If we want essential services—like snowplowing—we need to pay for them. We can't let tax revenue slide and get traction, too.