Research finds county can only plow private lanes on contract basis

From Prairie County Board of Commissioners

  Late this fall Prairie County had a public meeting to get input on the county’s road policy and especially on our snow plowing guidelines for the Prairie County Road Department. It was clear, without a doubt, that a significant majority attending wanted the “status quo” of plowing private lanes into residences free of charge and that this should continue until it was not economically feasible.

Unfortunately, the board of county commissioners has found some rather disturbing information. According to the Montana Association of Counties executive and legal staff it is illegal to perform the “status quo”.  It is against the Montana Constitution Code of Ethics. It is acceptable to maintain or plow for an emergency situation, but no other. Furthermore it has been stated that the county is not covered for liability due to the fact that county road crews are outside of the county’s jurisdiction when plowing private lanes.
Addressing this further with MACo, the county was informed that it is ethical and legal by the Montana Constitution and Codes to charge a fee to maintain or plow private lanes and roads until such point that a private contractor can accomplish the same. MACo believes that it is highly unlikely that the county will be challenged.
The best has been saved for last. By not charging for private lanes or roads the county has made a very strong case that these roads are “public roads” due to public tax dollars invested.  
Due to liability issues, if a local constituent wants their private lanes plowed or maintained they must sign a contract with the county which states the landowner will agree to pay the most current published rate and “to defend and indemnify Prairie County and its officers, employees and agents for any claim arising out of the plowing of my property which is not based on the sole negligence of Prairie County.” After signing the agreement, the landowner must contact the road supervisor to request maintenance or plowing for each time needed, which may not happen immediately and is of lowest priority. Some lanes may not be safe to plow or maintain and the road supervisor has the right to deny those requests.
The board of county commissioners realizes that this will upset a number of our constituents, but Prairie County must stay ethical and legal when performing its duties.

Published Nov. 16, 2011

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