At the first Town Council meeting after the Halloween weekend snow storm, Town Manager Joe Martin warned that the storm could be the costliest weather event ever for Verona. At Monday night’s meeting, Martin gave the first inkling of what that cost might be.
Since the storm hit on October 29, Verona has incurred $335,000 in storm-related expenses. That includes $110,000 in overtime for Verona Police Department, Public Works and Buildings & Grounds employees, and the rental of tree-clearing equipment. The large red truck in the photo is known as a tub grinder and it is used to chop large limbs into smaller, more manageable pieces.
This is far from the final tally. The cost presented to the Town Council was compiled before town workers had completed a first pickup of tree debris on every street, and Martin has promised that there will be repeat passes on all streets through December. Martin told the Council that many other towns have only done a first pass on the municipal budget and left subsequent cleanups to residents. While more overtime is unlikely, the town will need to continue to rent the tub grinder for large branches and then put all the wood that has been through the tub grinder–the piles in the Verona Pool parking lot are more than 10 feet high in places–through a mulcher to further reduce the bulk. Martin said at Monday’s meeting that the Hilltop Conservancy, the group that helps manage the parklands on the western ridge of Verona, has asked about getting some of the mulch for woodlands restoration on the Hilltop. Some mulch may also be made available to homeowners, but not until next spring.
The initial cost also does not include the removal or trimming of heavily damaged trees. On Monday, Martin presented the Council with a report by Bob Dickison, the chairman of the Verona Shade Tree Commission. It indicates that the town must deal with the stumps of 27 trees that were taken down immediately after the storm because they fell on roads or, in the case of 9 Beach Road, on a house. But Dicikison’s inventory says that another 195 trees must be cut down entirely because of the storm, including 11 trees each on Hillside Avenue, South Prospect Street, Linden Avenue and Howell Drive. Another 388 trees need trimming, according to Dickison’s report, though there is no indication of how extensive that trimming will be.
“At the end of the day, the storm could be a $500,000 event,” Martin said in an interview yesterday. Martin said that he and Dee Trimmer, the town clerk who is Verona’s de facto CFO, are trying to pay for as much of the cost as possible out of what is left in this year’s operating account, money that would normally be rolled to next year as surplus and applied to tax relief. “The towns that have unusually tight accounts are hurting,” Martin said. He does, hold hope that Verona will recover some of its costs through disaster relief: The state has designated Essex County as a disaster zone and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could do the same. If it does,Verona could qualify for reimbursement of up to 70% of its storm-related expenses.
That could be good news because, next spring, Verona will have to deal with the cost of replacing all our lost trees. In a normal year, the Shade Tree Commission is given a $100,000 budget to prune existing trees and plant 30 to 40 new ones. Martin is considering a multi-year account of perhaps $100,000 that Shade Tree could draw down as new trees are purchased. That however, was the same amount budgeted for new trees after the June 2008 microburst storm, which did far less extensive damage.
Martin expects to present a plan for this account to the Council in January or February.
All photos © Fred Goode Productions