The Town Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night which will allow for payment of the costs incurred as a result of October's freak snowstorm.
Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, who introduced the resolution, provided an overview of the process, beginning with the fact that the President of the United States declared the situation a major disaster, paving the way for affected municipalities to apply for reimbursement of 75 percent of costs through FEMA.
West Hartford was particularly hard hit, with a heavy swath of snow resulting in the loss of an enormous number of trees, Van Winkle said. "We picked up 332,000 cubic yards of debris from our streets ... well over 100,000 cubic yards more than any other town in the area." West Hartford's neighborhoods were declared completely just about weeks after the storm, while some other nearby towns, which have more open space available, still have debris remaining.
The volume of debris was initially calculated at 300,000 cubic yards, but ultimately totalled 332,000 cubic yards.
Van Winkle confirmed that after all of the costs had been reported, the Town had $11.9 million of storm-related expenses, including the cost of running the shelters, equipment, and overtime. "This doesn’t include the time the mayor and council members spent, because you don’t get paid," Van Winkle said, in reference to the controversy over for storm-related work. Approximately $11.6 million of the expenses fall into the realm of public works.
West Hartford expects to receive $8,925,000 from FEMA, Van Winkle said, following the Town's submission of an enormous application which is "in the multiple thousand of pages," he said.
Because FEMA has been cheated in the past, the agency now has extremely strict regulations for grant submissions. Van Winkle gave the example of a tree with a hanging branch, explaining "we have to take picture of the tree with the hanger, then the tree after hanger has been cut, then a picture of the cut branch ... and we had about 5,000 of them."
Van Winkle confirmed that West Hartford's employees have been diligent and everything has been properly documented. "It will take FEMA some time to process this, but we expect to see that $8,925,000."
"I’m proud of the Town, and equally proud of the paperwork effort to complete this [FEMA grant application]," Van Winkle said.
"It’s an amazing thing. They have to keep every record of everything they do, and demonstrate that to FEMA. In this case it was not only trees but every step they took had to be documented. It will be an amazing history of this storm if anyone would want to read 5,000 pages of this story," Van Winkle said.
Most of the Council members had questions, or took the opportunity to commend the efforts of Town employees for the work they did as well as the diligence with which they documented that work.
In response to council member Leon Davidoff's question about the processing of payment to the vendor that did the debris cleanup, Van Winkle confirmed that payments would not be held up awaiting FEMA's disbursement. "We hired the vendor under a state contract and we are required to pay that," he said. Bills have not yet been received, but Van Winkle has already confirmed that the town will be able to pay them from available cash flow.
The remainder of the storm expenses, $2.9 million, will be appropriated from the Town's fund balance – a "savings account" intended for unprecedented or emergency expenses.
Minority Leader Denise Hall said the town will have to think about plan to replenish that fund. However, she told Van Winkle, "I very much appreciate your talking about the way things are different in West Hartford than in other towns. We had somebody there [beginning the clean up process] the next day. If we had to bring in subcontractors from all over it would have been weeks. I just want to say that I think we did the right thing. I think the town did a fantastic job cleaning up everything."