At Tuesday's meeting of the Howell Mayor and Council a resolution was adopted authorizing the township to use money in the snow removal fund to help clean up from Hurricane Sandy and the ensuing Nor'Easter.
Township Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Filiatreault said with only $600 thousand in the fund and not wanting to exhaust the money if another storm hit before the end of the year, the resolution was merely a "stopgap," measure. "It's really not my avenue of choice," he said during the meeting.
With the final total expected to be in the millions the council was agreed that something else had to be done at which time Filiatreault suggested a special emergency appropriation. Such a decision would allow the township to spread the cost of the cleanup over five years rather than having the sum total count against the 2013 budget.
Filiatreault also said that the township could use any money it gets back from FEMA for disaster relief against the bonds to help defray the costs even more for residents. After discussing their options the council agreed to consider the resolution at their next meeting which is scheduled for Dec. 11. As it stands now the appropriation would be for $2 million.
Mayor Robert Walsh said after the meeting he believed it was important for the township to act quickly to not only keep the costs for taxpayers lowbut also to get the trees, debris and brush off the streets as quickly as possible. "We don't have extra money for stuff like this, but we also can't afford to leave the stuff all over the ground," he said.
Walsh said the potential damage the debris can cause for not only residents but motorists only increases the importance of getting the roads clear along with the financial aspects. "This cannot be lying on the ground two, three, four months from now,"
Deputy Mayor Bill Gotto who will succeed Walsh in January said he believes the township can accomplish their goals in the most financially responsible way. "You can't control the event," he said of the two recent storms. "But we have a great staff that knows how to control expenses and manage resources."
Gotto said the council will rely on the administration including Township Manager Helene Schlegel with using the money with their best discretion but said no matter what is done it will take time. "Residents need to know the magnitude of the situation. It's going to have an impact on the budget and the taxes."
The financial implications will be known later but Gotto said for now the main focus needs to be on the public health and safety. With next year's budget Gotto said the township will have to deal with the storms in a variety of ways including the possible loss of state aid.
The money being used for relief efforts in other towns could make for another challenging budget season according to Gotto. "I think this is just the beginning of the hurdles," he said.
Looking at the financial future is, "scary," in many ways according to Councilman Robert Nicastro, but he said the council will work to do what is best for the residents. "As we said up here publicly, it's something that has to be done," he said. "We'll be diligent, we will obviously take care of what we've got to take care of and deal with the financing as it comes."
Nicastro said he knows Howell is not unique in the damage sustained during the storms and are now looking to rebuild, but said the township will continue to move forward. "We think this is the most prudent way to do it for the taxpayers."
During Tuesday's meeting the council also gave credit to the administration and first responders among others who worked tirelessly to serve the township during the two storms. Walsh said the people working to solve the problems was an advantage for the township. "I have it a little bit easier than most," he said. "I knew I had a very capable manager, I knew I had a deputy mayor and council that were very active in the day to day of what was going on." He also gave credit to the people running the Department of Public Works and the Office of Emergency Management for their work.
With his term winding down Walsh said the response from residents and the administration reinforced his beliefs about the town. "This is a tough town," he said. "I can tell anybody that. This is a very resilient town."
The meeting on Dec. 11 is scheduled to be the last one of the year.