By Alex Bridges
Strasburg officials estimate repairs and cleanup from superstorm Sandy could cost the town $250,000.
But state and federal agencies likely should reimburse Strasburg for the expense, according to Town Manager Judson Rex. How long repayment takes remains unknown, but Rex expressed hope the reimbursement would come sooner than later.
Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Friday that he has requested federal disaster aid to help 28 communities recover from the impact of Superstorm Sandy, according to a press release. McDonnell's request for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Administration's Public Assistance Program includes the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren.
The federal program makes funding available to reimburse state and local governments for the costs associated with response and recovery efforts, such as debris removal and related emergency services, according to the release.
Aid awarded to Shenandoah County also would filter to towns such as Strasburg, Rex said.
Town Council at its regular meeting Tuesday approved a request to take up to $250,000 from the general fund reserve to cover expenses resulting from damage caused by Sandy. Rex advised that staff continues to work with the FEMA and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on public assistance funding. The state agency administers the federal funds as awarded.
Flooding from the superstorm caused some damage in town, with the west side hit the worst. The stream that runs between Cardinal and Taylor streets flooded and part of Ash Street collapsed where the main water and sewer lines run. Town crews worked after the storm to repair the damage. West King Street, the riverwalk and a town parking lot also had damages.
FEMA has explained that the town could receive reimbursement for spending money on repairs, but Strasburg staff sought to draw money from reserves. The town would then replenish the reserve fund once Strasburg receives the reimbursement from FEMA, Rex explained.
The matter came up at council's Nov. 5 work session.
"We feel [$250,000] that's comfortable and hopefully we'll work with a time line that we expect to get money back from FEMA and be expeditiously able to make the repairs that are needed to streets and at the park," Rex said.
The town would submit invoices to the agencies regarding completed work and related spending, according to Rex. However, the town also can provide estimates on costs for work not yet complete.
"Do we have a time frame that they will reimburse this?" asked Councilman John Hall.
Rex said he couldn't provide that information. It took two years for FEMA to reimburse the town for expenses the last time Strasburg went through the process. However, that delay occurred as the result of some "extraneous circumstances," including a need by the town to resubmit the required papers.
Officials say they expect a quicker turnaround.
"We're seeing much more response from FEMA this time," Rex said. They actually came up a week after the storm and toured the damage and everything."
Mayor Timothy Taylor said, "We were impressed with how quickly they showed up."
FEMA would reimburse overtime paid to staff that accrued the hours during the storm response along with administrative costs, according to Rex.
In response to a question from Councilwoman Jocelyn Vena, Rex explained he felt FEMA could challenge any request from the town.
Town policy requires a minimum balance in the reserve fund of $1.5 million. A draw of $250,000 would bring the current balance of $1.96 million to approximately $1.71 million.
Also at the meeting, Town Council voted 7-0 to approve resolutions seeking state funding for two local projects.
Town officials submitted two applications asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to include local road improvement projects in the agency's revenue sharing program. The town plans to make improvements to Queen Street and to build a pedestrian path along U.S. 11 to the Food Lion shopping center.
The resolutions support the town's efforts to seek up to $624,750 from VDOT in fiscal 2013-14. Of that amount, $520,750 would fund construction of a multi-modal sidewalk trail along North Massanutten Street and Old Valley Pike from the existing path to the north entrance of the Food Lion shopping center parking lot. The remaining $104,000 would fund the construction of improvements on Queen Street from North Massanutten Street to the Town Run Bridge.
The town must provide an equal match for any funds received through the VDOT program. The town can't provide in-kind services or labor to cover its match for the VDOT revenue, Rex explained. Unlike other enhancement projects, the town must provide its match in cash, he said.
The Queen Street project is anticipated to begin in fiscal 2015, according to Rex. The town included $40,000 in the current budget for the sidewalk to Food Lion. Most of that money would cover surveying and preliminary design work. Future local funding would depend on what the town receives from VDOT, Rex explained. Whether the path would be made of concrete or asphalt pavement remains undetermined at this early stage, Rex said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com