8 towns rush to document snow costs Federal disaster aid could provide 75% of removal expenses

January 18, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mike Farabaugh contributed to this article.

Carroll County's eight towns are recovering from mountains of snow, but plowing through mounds of paper.

Local officials are scrambling to document snow removal costs -- not just for the Blizzard of '96 but everything they've spent in the past three year -- if they want to qualify for federal disaster relief.

With municipal budgets in shambles, leaders learned Tuesday that towns are 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 big storm. They also were told to calculate the per capita costs of the storm.

"It is a bookkeeping nightmare," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy, who was busy with paperwork yesterday afternoon. "We have to document regular and emergency snow removal for three years."

Mr. Lippy was looking for bills, receipts, contracts and justification of costs 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 town manager of Hampstead, said he had so little time to find so much information.

"We just got the letter from Mr. Thomas, and 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. That means he was on the job for 106 hours last week."

Westminster could top that. The city of 15,000 had several employees who put in 71 hours of overtime during snow week.

Mount Airy Mayor Gerald Johnson said he was prepared to work overtime himself for a 75 percent return of the town expenses. Of course, the mayor's $2,500 annual salary doesn't include overtime. The last-minute rush was no surprise to him.

"This is normal," Mr. Johnson said. "They always want everything yesterday."

The process involves logistics and semantics.

"How do you apportion what percentage of meal costs went to clearing two lanes on emergency roads only?" Mr. Ridgely said.

And, how do you get contractors to bill the towns in time for a federal deadline?

"For a lot of our expenses, we were lucky enough to have had snow removal contracts with private contractors already signed 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 Matthew H. Candland, town manager.

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.

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