The month of January is now officially a disaster for Waterford, and town officials couldn’t be happier.
Friday, President Barack Obama declared the Jan. 12 snowstorm a major disaster for most of Connecticut. That allows for Waterford, along with other local municipalities, to get federal dollars for costs related to storm cleanup.
Waterford applied for $130,000 in funds through the Department of Homeland Security earlier in the month. While the exact amount hasn’t been decided yet, it is normally around 75 percent of the application, which would be $97,500, First Selectman Dan Steward said.
“That would be very nice,” he said.
The $130,000 figure is based on of a number of costs using FEMA guidelines, Steward said. Overtime costs and salt and sand are factored in, but so are the hours on each plow and front-end loader, even volunteer hours, he said.
“We follow their formula,” Steward said. “If you don’t, you don’t get the money.”
Because of all the snow, the public works department has exceeded its budget in salt, sand and overtime, Public Works Director Ron Cusano said. However, by cutting back on road reconstruction and other work, the department as a whole will still stay under budget this year, he said.
The money is returned to the town and will go into the general fund. Those costs will not just filter back to public works, but also the capital plan for perhaps buying a new plow truck because of wear and tear, Steward said.
“The wear and tear on our equipment in these storms is huge,” he said. “You will see this money show up in a lot of other budgets.”
Obama declared the snowstorm a disaster in Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, New Haven, New London and Tolland Counties, including the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nations. He did not declare the snowstorm a disaster in Middlesex or Windham counties.
A Note On The Town’s General Fund
Waterford has a relatively high general fund compared to other towns. The total is around $9.4 million, or approximately 13 percent of this year’s budget, set at $72.1 million. Most towns are within 5 to 9 percent of the budget.
The high general fund has advantages and disadvantages, Finance Director Rudy Beers said. The biggest advantage is the town borrows money at an extremely low rate, a big deal considering the town is borrowing more than $200 million for all the recent school construction, she said.
The major disadvantage is it hurts the town during collective bargaining. Union salaries are based upon the town’s ability to pay, and if the town has a large general fund, it is deemed to be able to pay, she said.
However, she said, it might be time to challenge the unions anyway. In recent years, the town has been unwilling to take the unions to arbitration, instead settling and giving unions raises due to the fear the town would lose because of the large fund, she said.
Trying it once might be worth it, Beers said.
“I think it comes to the point that you go for it, despite all the (legal) costs, and test your chances,” she said. “If you win, it will set a precedent for all the other town unions; and if you lose, at least you tried your best.”