(HELENA) Snow piled up in Helena throughout the day Wednesday. Many people were out early to get a head start on shoveling.

Sam Spengler was visiting from California, and shoveling the sidewalks in front of his parents’ house.

“Right after I had shoveled the first time, I shoveled probably 30 minutes after, and it’s not going to be my last time either,” he said.

In Helena, a city ordinance requires all property owners in residential areas to clear off the sidewalks within 24 hours of when snow stops falling.

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“It’s real important to get everything cleared out,” said Spengler. “It can be pretty treacherous, the sidewalks and the streets.”

This year, city leaders have unveiled a new tool to help residents know when the work needs to be done. The city’s website now includes a “countdown clock,” showing the deadline for sidewalks to be shoveled.

Greta Dige, a Helena code enforcement officer, said a city engineer got the idea from a similar clock on Calgary, Alberta’s website.

“He asked, ‘Well, could we do something similar for folks for our sidewalk snow removal countdown, so that people knew when that time was up?’” she said.

The clock will show whether snow is actively falling, as measured at the weather station at Helena Regional Airport. Once the snow stops, the clock will count down from 24 hours.

“When that expires – and it will say ‘Time Expired’ – that will be the trigger for people to call in complaints,” Dige said.

Neighbors are able to submit anonymous complaints if they see uncleared sidewalks, but the city won’t investigate any complaints until the 24-hour deadline passes.

“That helps with people, to at least give property owners that time to do their due diligence and take care of their sidewalks,” said Dige.

Dige said the countdown clock will reset as soon as it starts to snow again, even if a full 24 hours didn’t go by. She said she’s hopeful the new tool will make it easier for everyone in the city to know what is expected.

“I think people have appreciated it, to now give guidance to both property owners and the individuals that submit complaints,” she said.

Spengler agreed.

“I think it’s a great idea, in order to keep everything clear as possible,” he said.

The new countdown clock won’t apply to property owners in business districts, who have different requirements. Those owners have to clear their sidewalks either within four hours of when the snow stops or before 9 a.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends.

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