Towns plow through snow budgets

Plows clear roads on Meadow Street in Naugatuck between snow storms.

Naugatuck, Prospect, and Beacon Falls have all blown through most of their snow budgets with the 50 inches of snow that slammed the region in January.

“We were very low at the end of the last storm, so I’m sure this storm will zero us out,” said Naugatuck Public Works Director James Stewart, speaking during Tuesday’s storm.

With towns scraping the bottoms of their coffers, they’re starting to look to other sources to make up the difference.

All three towns are applying for snow removal reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but Gov. Dan Malloy must first submit a written request for a disaster declaration from President Barack Obama. FEMA would then review the request and make a recommendation to Obama based on several criteria. According to FEMA’s website, the Governor must certify that the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceed state and local capabilities. FEMA assesses a number of factors to determine the severity, magnitude, and impact of a disaster event.

According to FEMA’s website “In order to receive reimbursement for snow removal costs, each of the counties included in the Governor’s request for a declaration must have record or near record snowfall within a 48-hour period, and also meet other criteria described in the Snow Assistance Policy.

If FEMA does decide to dole out funds, the towns will receive 75 percent of their costs for snow removal.

Naugatuck requested nearly $100,000, Beacon Falls requested about $60,000 and Prospect requested about $33,000 from FEMA.

Naugatuck

While they are waiting to hear back from the government on reimbursements, towns are looking to their contingencies funds and surpluses in other areas to transfer into snow removal accounts.

“Our budgets are so tight; generally we look to the contingencies of the town to pay for them,” Stewart said.

Stewart joked once Naugatuck runs out of money, the public works department will simply stop plowing the streets, but conceded that’s not really an option.

Public safety is obviously the town’s number one priority, Stewart said.

As of Jan. 28, Naugatuck had about $14,000 left in the winter overtime account after spending nearly $106,000 to keep plows running around the clock. Since the town negotiated a one man per truck policy, they faired a little better than previous years, when they had to pay two drivers for each truck, Stewart said.

They didn’t fair so well with their sand and salt funds. At the end of January, Naugatuck had about $12,000 left out of their original budget of $125,000.

The line item for snow contracts left not quite $6,000 of the $75,000 budget.

Stewart said he expected those funds to be depleted by the end of this week.

Naugatuck has also had trouble with several plows breaking down and not being able to plow certain streets because of cars blocking the way. Recently, one of the town’s big trucks finally kicked the bucket after 30 years of service, meaning the public works department had to assign those routes to other drivers, according to Mayor Bob Mezzo.

He said Stewart has asked for some flexibility on the town’s bidding process to be better able to respond to the storms.

The town only has one pay loader needed for sand and salt as well as removing snow banks blocking views at intersections and the current contractors either don’t have them or are using their pay loaders elsewhere, according to Mezzo.

The state has offered to let Naugatuck use their bidded contractors, Mezzo said.

Although the town has received numerous complaints about its response to the storm, Naugatuck is facing the same problems as towns across the state, Mezzo said.

Prospect

Prospect hasn’t faired any better, although as a rural community they haven’t had any problems with parking, according to Mayor Bob Chatfield.

Chatfield said the town’s nine full-size trucks, three mini-plows, and three bucket loaders have been burning through fuel as well as dollars.

He topped the town’s diesel tank off with 3,000 gallons Jan. 21 and another 2,800 ten days later.

“I’ll being transferring into every line item at the next council meeting,” Chatfield said.

Prospect’s original snow and ice budget, including salt, sand, maintenance, parts, labor, relief drivers, and contractors, totaled $524,000.

Chatfield transferred $167,000 into those accounts on Tuesday to cover that day’s storm.

Although the accounts aren’t completely empty yet, it’s going to be a stretch to make them last.

“That account’s got to last me until at least April 15,” Chatfield said.

He said he would be taking money from the general fund and the $503,000 credit the town received from the Region 16 school district.

Because of the unusual amounts of snow this year, Chatfield hired two pay loaders to help clear intersections so drivers can see around the corners.

The town was able to save on salt this year. Last year, they paid $77 a ton, but this year they got it for $55, Chatfield said.

Chatfield said he hasn’t received too many complaints about the town’s snow response. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are making light of it. There’s 1 percent that just don’t get it,” Chatfield said.

“All in all, we’re all counting the days until spring,” Chatfield said, joking that the little league would have to start the 4th of July instead of April because of snow.

He said he hoped Punxsutawney Phil would predict an early spring.

“Think spring,” Chatfield said.

Beacon Falls

Beacon Falls Financial Director Manual Gomes said the town’s snow budget will definitely be exceeded.

The town has already expended its $50,000 budget for snow removal materials, but overtime is still okay, according to Gomes. As of the end of January, the town had spent $25,500 of the $39,000 budget, he said.

Beacon Falls Selectman Dominic Sorrentino said town hasn’t decided where they’re going to come up with the extra funds they will need to cover this year’s snow removal.

“It’s very taxing,” he said.

Sorrentino said he would discuss the matter with First Selectman Susan Cable when she gets back from vacation this week.

“We’re researching at this point how to fund any dollars that we are over in line items for snow removal,” Sorrentino said.

The town had to bring in outside help to take care of the excess snow, something that was not included in the budget.

“The cleanup from private contractors is going to push us way over,” Gomes said.

With more snow on the way, the town will probably continue using outside vendors, Sorrentino said.

He said he hasn’t received many complaints from residents.

“Most of the residents seem to understand the conditions that we are experiencing …We’re doing as best as we can with the crews that we have and the equipment and manpower that we have,” Sorrentino said.