The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved $361,645 in budget transfers Monday June 3, much of that amount devoted to repairing or restoring town equipment, and covering unbudgeted storm-related costs.
Finance Director Robert Tait told The Bee prior to the meeting that unlike the school district, which maintains both a facilities maintenance and emergency maintenance account, the town uses its contingency fund for emergencies.
When extraordinary costs from Superstorm Sandy and added costs related to post 12/14 duties depleted the contingency account, Public Works Director Fred Hurley was told he would have to find the funds to cover committed costs, as well as repairing or restoring damaged equipment within his own budget.
Mr Hurley said with the qualifying storms, Newtown had to pick up 25 percent of the cleanup costs as a condition of receiving a substantial FEMA grant for the balance.
“That money had to come out of the public works budget,” Mr Hurley said. “And that FEMA money was not unused cash surplus. It paid for unbudgeted bills. Sure, we budgeted for normal overtime and wear and tear, but nothing could prepare us for what we ran into (with 12/14-related costs).”
The public works chief said the town opted to accept the FEMA grant, resigned to finding the necessary funds to cover the shortfalls. He said the town would otherwise have to consider an alternate assessment, or mid-year tax surcharge, to bridge the emergency shortfall.
“We've been running budgets so tight, we didn't have anywhere to go,” Mr Hurley said. “So we were told to find solutions within our own department.”
Mr Tait used $55,000 generated from raised rates and savings at the transfer station. Mr Hurley said the new revenue resulted from increased fees for construction and demolition debris and tightening restrictions on what could be dumped.
Mr Tait said the latter practice generated savings in what Newtown has to pay Wheelabrator of Bridgeport to eventually incinerate selected debris. Another $60,000 came from scaling back a number of capital road projects.
Mr Hurley said phasing down several projects permitted crews to complete most of the year's $1 million in budgeted repairs or improvements already planned.
“No project in the schedule had to be stopped or eliminated,” Mr Hurley said.
Half of the savings, $30,000, was applied to overtime costs for tree removal and equipment repairs. The balance paid for building maintenance and custodial over runs, and utility bills that were formally handled by the Parks & Recreation department.
Mr Hurley said those accounts were transferred to his budget mid year without being funded. Mr Tait said Mr Hurley informed the finance board of that shortfall during a budget review session earlier this year.
A surplus of salt resulting from lower than planned demand last winter generated savings, along with$10,000 budgeted for private road construction that was not used.
Because of a higher than anticipated workers compensation and disability claims, and delaying in filling open positions, Mr Tait developed an additional $140,000. Mr Hurley said the town was able to save $8,500 over the original quoted and budgeted cost of a heavy truck replacement body.
Scaled back routine roadside cleanup and the balance of $30,000 from the scaled back road projects covered nearly $61,000 in unbudgeted emergency tree removal costs post storm Sandy.
Mr Hurley said another $21,100 was saved by doing some winter related cleanup in-house versus contracting. In all Mr Hurley said storm related equipment repairs alone cost $175,700, including repairs and maintenance of the police department fleet.
“With the age of the fleet, the storms and 12/14 really impacted us,” Mr Hurley said. “We couldn't do a lot more band-aid work to keep them going.”
He said, however, that his department opted to overhaul and restore certain pieces of heavy equipment versus buying new, which extended the functional lifetime of trucks and vehicles already paid for.
“But we'll have to start looking at replacing some of those next year,” he said.
His department also was forced to keep mechanics on overnight duty post 12/14 to service police vehicles which were in constant and heavy use.
“Keeping these police vehicles routinely serviced on the overnights helped keep the cars from breaking down more often or catastrophically,” Mr Hurley said. “It increased the reliability of the police force during this crucial time.”
Mr Tait told selectmen that in addition, an emergency repair of a crucial elevator, and a $10,000 electrical breaker added to the burden.
“Some of these accounts were overspent already,” he said. “So in these emergency evets, you have to find the money somewhere.”
Selectman James Gaston noted that regardless of the reason or amount, transfers are common to manage accounts in the closing weeks of a fiscal cycle.