NEW FAIRFIELD – The Board of Finance recommended to a Town Meeting an additional appropriation of funds to finance town cleanup from the May 15 storm at its regular meeting June 20.
BOF Chair Wes Marsh gave an update on the cost for removal of debris from the May 15 storm. He noted that the Board of Selectmen had reviewed Request for Proposals (RFPs) from several companies for brush removal. He invited First Selectman Pat Del Monaco to speak about the results.
Ms. Del Monaco noted that representatives from FEMA had toured the town the previous week. She noted that FEMA officials had said that the Town would be eligible for potential reimbursement of cleanup cost for roads maintained by the Town only. Private roads would not be eligible, and the Town is required to keep bids for work on them separate from bids for work on Town maintained roads.
She stated that in order for some private communities to qualify for FEMA aid, they would have to file with FEMA independently, get their own cleanup bids, pay for cleanup, and hope to get some reimbursement. Ms. Del Monaco noted that this would be a near impossible task for most ,if not all, private communities to accomplish, to say nothing of the many private roads in town that were not part of any community and had no board in place. She noted that those on private roads pay the same taxes as other residents in town without receiving any snow clearing or road maintenance from the Town. Because of this, the Board of Selectmen felt that the Town should pay for the cost of brush removal for those private roads.
After receiving several bids from tree companies as part of the RFP, it was determined that the average cost of brush removal from town maintained roads would be $1.4 million for 50 cubic yards. Additional costs included $200,000 for chipping, disposal and monitoring and $150,000 contingency fund for a total potential cost of $1.75 million. If FEMA were to approve reimbursement, the Town would receive 75-80% of $1.60 million (removal and disposal costs).
Ms. Del Monaco noted that there are roughly the same amount of road miles of private roads as there are town-maintained roads. Based on this, and pending an RFP, she estimated the cost of pick up and disposal of debris from private roads to be an additional $1.4 million with disposal costs of $100,000. According to FEMA officials, the Town would not be eligible for reimbursement of any of those costs.
Between the town maintained roads and the private roads, the anticipated cost would be $3.25 million, including a $150,000 contingency fee. At a Town Meeting held May 31, an initial $750,000 appropriation was approved by voters. If the current $2.75 million request were to be approved, it would make a total of $3.5 million available for roadside cleanup. To compare the tremendous damage wreaked by the May 15 storm, Alfred, the unpredicted winter snow storm in October of 2011 which downed leaf-laden trees and branches, had a cleanup cost of $336,000 of which $237,000 was used for brush removal.
Former First Selectman John Hodge, who was in the audience, was asked by First Selectman Pat DelMonaco and BOF member Cheryl Reedy about his experience with past storms. He noted that FEMA liked the fact that chipping was done at the roadside which ensured that loads were full. Ms. Del Monaco noted that there would be monitors due to the high volume of larger logs that could not be chipped mixed in with the brush.
Following Ms. Del Monaco’s presentation, the Board discussed several issues. Some members felt that although it might be difficult for private communities to pay for cleanup and apply for FEMA reimbursement, some attempt should be made to do so. It was suggested that perhaps the Town could develop an RFP template for communities to use as a guide when requesting bids from contractors.
Board Alternate Cheryl Reedy noted that most likely only 3 or 4 communities at most would have the structure in place to put something of this nature together.
Board Chair Wes Marsh felt it would be more effective to appeal to the Town’s Federal and State representatives.
Board Member Anthony Yorio said he felt uncomfortable with appropriating such a large amount of money without trying to seek reimbursement from FEMA wherever the Town could.
Mr. Marsh stated that the General Fund is a rainy day fund, to be used in an emergency. He said that if this was not a rainy day, he didn’t know what was.
Ms. Reedy suggested wording the motion so that the $2 million budget surplus be used first, with the remainder to be taken from the General Fund. While she acknowledged that the wording was only semantics, she said that it would help preserve the Town’s AAA bond rating as Moody’s would be looking to see if the Town used all the money from the current tax year’s budget before dipping into the General Fund.
Mr. Hodge confirmed that Ms. Reedy was correct. In his recollection of previous storm appropriations, he remembered the rating agencies cutting the ratings of towns that dipped straight into their unappropriated general fund balances. He noted that with the possibility of needing to bond for school safety and security improvements, it would be better to word the motion as Ms. Reedy suggested.
The Board approved a motion to “Recommend to a Town Meeting To consider and act upon the approval of an additional appropriation of $2,750,000 coming from the 2017-2018 revenue surplus and the remainder from the General Fund for expenses related to the May 15th storm with all FEMA reimbursement to be deposited to the General Fund. All reasonable efforts will be made to secure FEMA reimbursement for all expenses undertaken.”
The Town Meeting will be held tonight, Thursday, June 28 at 7:30pm at the Community Center at 33 Route 37.
After the motion approval, Board of Education Chair Peggy Katkocin made a presentation on the periodic communication of metrics measurements from the Board of Education to the Board of Finance. During the spring budget hearings, the BOF had asked the BOE to develop periodic reports to help the BOF better understand the results of student learning and how those results correlated to dollar requests within the school budget.
Ms. Katkocin noted that BOE member Rick Regan had been working with BOF member Erin Badillo to determine what should go into the report. She noted that the BOE could make monthly or bi-monthly reports to the BOF of fifteen minutes or so.
She said that Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jason McKinnon suggested including a comprehensive testing report tracking results over time, I.e. where students were 2-3 years ago, where they are now, and what the goal is 2-3 years in the future; updates on yearly key milestones; review current scores and set future targets if needed, outline goals and achievement guidelines; outline curriculum and professional training and tie that back to student achievement; and a thorough testing report to be published in the paper and available on the website every September for public awareness. She said that this should be helpful in providing year-round information so that during the budget process focus can be placed on the dollars rather than needing to explain what the programs are all about.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Finance will be held Wednesday, July 18, at 7:30pm.
By Greg Slomba