State will have to meet $27M threshold for towns to receive funds for Stella

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Much snow to clear: Wednesday morning, March 15, after a record March storm dumped two feet of snow in Altamont, the village of Altamont was digging out and so were surrounding areas. 

Nearly three months after Winter Storm Stella, ranked a Category 3 snowstorm, dumped up to two feet of snow on the Capital Region, municipalities are seeking funds to cover the costs of the storm. The entirety of New York was placed under a state of emergency, with a number of schools, government agencies, and businesses closing on March 14.

In order to get federal aid for storm cleanup, thresholds must be reached. Albany County has already reached its threshold of a little over $1 million. New York State, however, has yet to meet its threshold of $27.3 million, said Kristin DeVoe, a media representative for the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

“This is a collection process, it’s not an application,” she said.

According to Donald Caetano, an external affairs director of Region II in the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which covers New York State — the state is still in the midst of assessing damages to determine expenses from the storm to reach the threshold. The state can then request FEMA to assess these expenses and determine if the state should request an emergency declaration from the president of the United States. The presidential declaration is the final action needed for New York to receive money to cover costs incurred by the storm.

At a board of education meeting on May 8, Berne-Knox-Westerlo school business Manager Sarah Blood announced that the school is seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program, explaining that Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis had informed the district that the school was eligible.

“Any reimbursement is going to help the school district,” Blood told The Enterprise the following day. She estimated the total cost for BKW from the storm was $11,000, but her office was currently in the process of calculating this.

Costs include wear and tear on vehicles, overtime paid to school employees, and other expenses associated with snow removal. Blood said that two tons of salt were used, and employees worked over 100 hours of overtime. The cost was so high, she said, because the storm occurred in the middle of the week, came late in the winter, and lasted a long time; the storm closed the district for two days.

Applying for the reimbursement involves processing paperwork and contacting DHSES, the agency working with municipalities and FEMA.

Eligible local governments include counties, towns, cities, villages, school districts, local public authorities, state-recognized Native American tribes, and special districts — such as fire districts.

Lefkaditis had contacted BKW in early May, said Blood. The supervisor, who formerly served on the BKW School Board, told The Enterprise that he had alerted the school because it could save the district money, but also because it could bring New York State closer to its threshold.

DeVoe said that there are “many layers of outreach” to the school districts, one of the which is encouraging government officials to contact schools in their area.

“It’s a group effort,” said DeVoe. “It’s not uncommon for a town supervisor to reach out in their jurisdiction.”

Other school districts have requested funds as well. The Voorheesville Central School District is requesting just over $1,800, said Michael Goyer, transportation supervisor for the district. He was approached by Larry Stignor, who works in in the recovery section of DHSES, in early May. Guyer concluded that the district had spent $549.04 on about 11 hours of overtime, about $1,200 on equipment use, and $75 for 2 tons of road salt during the March storm.

Clifford Nooney, director of Facilities for the Guilderland Central School District, estimated the district would request somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000. Nooney told The Enterprise on Friday that he was still formulating the request, which he had begun after also hearing from Stignor.

Like other districts, the expenses are likely to be from equipment use, road salt, and overtime hours — Nooney estimated around 70 hours were used for that 48-period in March. The Guilderland schools were closed for two days, because the parked buses were snowbound on March 15, although roads had been cleared in town.

The town of Knox has submitted for about $21,000 in reimbursement for items like rental equipment, overtime, and repairs. This is not the first time that the town has requested money from FEMA. Knox is set to receive a final payment from FEMA that will complete a total $608,000 for costs associated with Tropical Storm Irene, which came through the Hilltowns in 2011, said Lefkaditis.

In Berne, Supervisor Kevin Crosier said the town has made a request for $16,000 for costs associated with sand and salt, use of trucks, plowing, and overtime hours. Crosier also noted that the expenses in cities in the county could be higher than those in rural areas like Berne, because there are few places to put the snow plowed from city streets, which has to be trucked elsewhere.

Westerlo’s deputy highway superintendent, Jody Ostrander, and administrative aid Patricia Boice submitted a request for just under $26,000 fro Westerlo, said Ostrander. He calculated materials and machinery expenses, while Boice totaled up payroll.

Ostrander said that FEMA would allow municipalities to submit expenses for only the 48-hour period from March 14 to 15, even though cleanup from the storm went beyond that period of time due to factors such as blowing snow. He projected another $4,000 or $5,000 was spent on materials and machinery after that 48-hour window.

Ostrander said the town was contacted by an Albany County official on March 31 and had to submit a request by April 6. He said he is not sure if funds would be awarded after the amount of time that has gone by without hearing a response.

“I thought we would have heard back by now,” he said.

Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury of Rensselaerville said the town had requested a little under $21,000 for employees’ overtimes, plowing, and cleanup.

“It will all depend if we meet that threshold,” she said, of the state cut-off.

New Scotland Highway Superintendent Kenneth Guyer, had requested a little over $34,000 from FEMA for expenses associated with March 14 and 15. Part of that covers repairs for one of their trucks that went off the road during the storm, putting equipment costs at nearly $12,000. Overtime costs were about $7,600, with hours totaling 136.5. Guyer emphasized that the hours could not be divided evenly into the cost — different employees had different rates of pay with different amounts of fringe benefits added to the total. Road salt cost almost $14,000.

Like Ostrander, Guyer said there were some expenses associated with the storm which occurred outside the 48-hour time-frame, such as clearing sidewalks.

Guilderland Highway Superintendent Steven Oliver said the town had requested about $146,000; $110,000 for the highway department and $36,000 for the parks and recreation department — the parks department maintains the town’s sidewalks, said Oliver.

Overtime pay for the highway department totaled a little over $10,000 — $30,000 was spent on equipment or fuel, and $70,000 was the total for road treatments such as salt and calcium, said Oliver. The parks department requested $6,000 in overtime pay, $17,000 in salt, and $13,000 in equipment costs.

With a tight budget, it’s very important the town receive this reimbursement, said Oliver. But this would depend on how requests add up in all the towns in the county.

The villages of Altamont and Voorheesville requested funds from FEMA as well. In Voorheesville, Clerk-Treasurer Linda Pasquali and Public Works Superintendent Brett Hotaling put in a request for about $9,300 in mid-April, said Deputy Clerk-Treasurer Karen Finnessey. This breaks down to about $1,700 in overtime, $2,700 in salt, and $4,800 for equipment use.

According to a release from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Farm Service Agency is accepting applications from May 2, 2017 to May 31, 2018, from family farmers who have suffered at least 30 percent of their production to winter storms and other bad weather occurring from March 8 to March 20 of this year. Farmers may be eligible for production loss loans up to 100 percent of their losses at 3.75 percent interest. Those interested may call (518) 692-9940, ext. 2.

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