Carroll County's eight towns are recovering from mountains of snow, but plowing through mounds of paper.
Local officials have been scrambling to document snow removal costs -- not just for the Blizzard of '96 but everything spent in the past three years -- to qualify for federal disaster relief.
Town leaders learned Tuesday they were eligible for federal help. The only problem is that applications are due at the Emergency Operations Center in Westminster at 9 a.m. today.
Municipalities were told to provide average costs of snow removal for the past three years and estimates of costs for this month's storm. They also were asked to calculate the per capita cost of the storm.
"It is a bookkeeping nightmare," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy. "We have to document regular and emergency snow removal for three years."
Mr. Lippy was looking for bills, receipts, contracts and justification of costs incurred to make "one clear lane in both directions on roads for emergency passage."
George E. Thomas Jr., assistant director of the Carroll County Emergency Operations Center, gave towns the good news -- reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be as much as 75 percent of the costs incurred.
"The bad news is there will be much paperwork and justification needed," Mr. Thomas said.
Neil Ridgely, working his first snow season as Hampstead town manager, said he had had little time to find much information.
"There is an awful lot of documentation necessary to complete our report," Mr. Ridgely said. "We had one man [on snow removal] who turned in 66 overtime hours."
Westminster could top that. The city of 15,000 had several employees who put in 71 hours of overtime last week.
Mount Airy Mayor Gerald Johnson said the extra work he's done will be worth it for a 75 percent return of town expenses but the rush is not unexpected.
"This is normal," Mr. Johnson said. "They always want everything yesterday."
Logistics and semantics also must be taken into account.
"How do you apportion what percentage of meal costs went to clearing two lanes on emergency roads only?" Mr. Ridgely said.
How do you get contractors' bills before a federal deadline?
"For a lot of our expenses, we were lucky enough to have had snow removal contracts with private contractors already signed FTC and in place, so it has just been a matter of getting them to either get invoices to us, or at least give us some close estimates that we can turn in," said Chip Boyles, Taneytown town manager.
In Sykesville, the staff devoted an entire day to documenting costs. It meant time-consuming research, but the potential payoff was worth the effort, said Town Manager Matthew H. Candland.
Without federal money, other town departments will feel the strain of the blizzard, which wiped out Sykesville's $6,000 snow budget and one of its vehicles, he said.