The blizzard that ripped through Southeastern Massachusetts Feb. 8 and 9 wreaked havoc with municipal budgets not only for the current fiscal year but probably also into the next cycle.
Smaller communities spent around $200,000 each, while larger communities and those on the coast paid more than $1 million each to keep plow trucks rolling, police and firefighters available, and residents sheltered, while pounding surf shattered seawalls and eroded beaches. And winter is not quite over.
“Mother Nature has pummeled municipal budgets, not just for this year but next year as well,” said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “This spring, town meetings and city councils will be taking action to appropriate money they spent on snow and ice, and they’ll have to reconcile how they’ll cover those deficits.”
Overtime costs for police and fire departments will also have to be covered. “That means those funds won’t be available for projects in the coming year,” Beckwith said.
Local officials turned in their preliminary costs to the state Feb. 27, and they hoped the amounts are significant enough to warrant federal reimbursement. Any federal payments, however, probably won’t arrive in time to bail municipal budgets out of the red this fiscal year.
“The cost of that storm is frightening,” said Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo. Police Lieutenant Paul Taber, Marshfield’s emergency management director, said his town, one of the hardest hit, spent “well over $1 million.” A later estimate that takes into account a blown-out jetty at Green Harbor and dune damage at Rexhame and Green Harbor beaches, plus snow removal and other damage to town infrastructure, pushed the figure to $3 million.
“Just our shelter costs were unbelievable,” Longo said. “We sheltered over 500 people, 37 dogs, and two geckos.” The town also had roadway, beach, and seawall damage. “I’m afraid it will not only impact this fiscal year, but also next year.”
Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said certain requirements must be met to qualify for federal reimbursement. Damage amounts are calculated by county to see whether they reach the threshold necessary for federal aid.
“One community can get really socked, but if the county doesn’t qualify, they don’t get reimbursed,” Judge said.
Most importantly, a presidential “Major Disaster Declaration” has to be issued for the area seeking reimbursement, Judge said. If all requirements are met, at least some of the expenses will qualify for 75 percent reimbursement.
Duxbury, like Marshfield, took a heavy hit, with $1.5 million in expenses. About $862,000 of that is for beach restoration, Fire Chief Kevin Nord said. Town Manager Richard MacDonald said the snow budget is long gone.
“An unanticipated event like this is hard,” he said. “We’re eating into our free cash.”
Quincy submitted $1.4 million in storm costs, but spokesman Christopher Walker said the city is still in good financial shape because it had boosted its snow budget to $1.2 million. “We’re in better shape than we would have been four or five years ago,” Walker said.
Hanover’s total expense was $205,000. “We certainly hope there are enough costs in Plymouth County to get disaster relief,” said Hanover Town Manager Troy Clarkson. “Otherwise there are substantial amounts we’ll have to cover.”
In Easton, Fire Chief Kevin Partridge, the town’s emergency management director, calculated the town’s expenditure at $223,000. “Storms like this can chew up most of a town’s snow plowing budget, and my costs, police costs, and school costs have to come out of our own budgets,” Partridge said.
Meanwhile, Mansfield spent $270,000 on the storm, and Bridgewater $267,000.
Abington paid out just under $230,000. “We know we’re not going to get 100 percent reimbursement, but any amount would be good,” Town Manager John D’Agostino said. Bills, meanwhile, will be covered with free cash, “which means we’re going to have less money available for the coming year as a result,” D’Agostino said.
Whitman spent $222,355, with one third of that related to problems at the town’s emergency shelter at a local school, where there was a generator breakdown, food spoilage in the cafeteria, and flooding.
Norwell’s total came to $236,000. “About $70,000 of that was just for debris removal,” said Fire Chief Andrew Reardon, the emergency management director.
Assistant Town Administrator Betty Foley said Hingham submitted an expense list totaling just under $460,000. The amount includes $95,000 spent by the municipal light plant.
Milton had $263,000 in expenses, Weymouth about $430,000, and Plymouth a total of $672,000. Braintree’s cost was $337,000, according to the mayor’s chief of staff, Peter Morin.
“We are hopeful that a disaster declaration for such an historic storm will help us recoup our expenses so we can focus resources on education, public safety, and other public works needs,” Randolph Town Manager David Murphy said in an e-mail. The town spent $257,000.
Judge said damage assessment teams, consisting of federal and state emergency management personnel, could be making site visits to communities with the highest costs before the end of this week.