By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
Any day now, there's going to be a lot of hauling and chipping of storm debris going on around Washington County. The debate lies in who is going to pay for the cleanup. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Kentucky are offering to assist, but at a price that some are willing to pay, and others are not.
FEMA has offered to cover 75 percent of the cost to gather and haul debris caused by the ice storm that hit Washington County on Jan. 27. The state will cover an additional 12 percent with the county paying for 13 percent of county roads only. An earlier version of the proposal had the county and/or city cost coming from future road aid money. The state has since backed off that option but has yet to determine how that cost would be paid.
“Kentucky Transportation Secretary Joe Prather, through his main contact Mike Hancock, said they were going to do everything they could to not impact our blacktop money,” said Washington County Judge-Executive John A. Settles. “We're still up in the air on where our 13 percent is going to come from. We can't get a grasp on what this will cost. Some counties say it could be half a million dollars.”
Springfield City Council discussed a course of action last Tuesday.
“The municipal aid road fund is never enough to do what we want to do anyway,” said Springfield Public Works Director Glenn Mattingly. “That's not a good place to take away money. If we had a million dollars to spend on blacktop, I think everyone would agree that we could spend a million dollars on blacktop. Taking money from the municipal aid road fund, in my opinion, is a terrible idea.”
Each municipality can opt in or out of the state's plan at any time. If they opt in and do not like the way things are progressing, they can opt out. If the city or county opts in and it is not to their liking, they can opt out later.
Once the contracts are awarded by the state, the contractors will have 24 hours to bring two crews to a particular county where they will be taken to a state garage. Every truck will be measured and marked with the cubic yards of that truck. Each crew will have a state-appointed supervisor accompany them and the supervisor will determine what can go on the truck and when that truck is full. That truck will also undergo another inspection once it reaches the dump site. Each load will be marked as to what road it came from and if it was a state, county or city road. That way they can keep track of how much was county and how much was state. The state says that any contractor hired by the state must complete the cleanup by April 6.
Part of the problem of opting out of the state's plan is that municipalities would have to pay for the cost of contractors up front and wait for reimbursement, which could take six to nine months. If cities or counties use their own labor force, they may only be reimbursed for overtime that workers put in and some cost of use of equipment.
Kevin Devine, director of the Washington County Office of Emergency Management, told the city council that reimbursement for temporary hires to help with the cleanup could be sought.
Devine told the council, “If you hire two or three part-time people to assist, you can get reimbursed for 87 percent of their hourly rate.”
Springfield Mayor John W. Cecconi said, “My personal opinion is to opt out and let Glenn (Mattingly) hire some additional help and get another chipper if we can, and if we can't, we'll haul it out to the barn and chip it at a later date.”
“I like that idea myself,” said council member Mike Elliott.
By Thursday morning, the city had already purchased a new chipper and a crew of newly hired help was cleaning up debris along Grundy Avenue.
“We got a new chipper twice as big as the one we had,” added Cecconi Thursday morning. “We've already hired some temporary help and we're breaking them in. By Tuesday morning we should have two crews taking care of debris in the city.”
An expected drop in occupational tax revenue for this coming year is forcing Washington County to pursue a different course of action.
“The two advantages I see of entering into the contract with the state are that we have no money up front,” Settles said. “Plus we don't have to do any of the record keeping. We just don't have that much (money) in our reserve. If we go with the state contract, the state will be responsible for logging all the records and paying the contractors upfront, and then our 13 percent will be withheld somewhere down the road.”
At an emergency meeting of the Washington County Fiscal Court on Wednesday morning, magistrate Greg Simms motioned to opt into the state's proposal with a second by magistrate Benjamin Settles, The court voted unanimously in favor of opting into the state's plan to gather and haul debris.
The FEMA and state contracts will cover the gathering of the debris only. The cost of disposing of the debris falls onto the city and the county, who may seek up to 87 percent reimbursement for the cost of disposal.
Regardless of who will be doing the work, all residents in Springfield and Washington County are asked to bring their fallen limbs to the roadside or curb for disposal. The contractors hired by the state will not come onto private property. No additional materials will be picked up, only fallen limbs or branches caused by the ice storm.