GovernmentThe Examiner

Mount Pleasant Looks to Rebuild from Recent Storm Damage

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By Abby Luby—

Severe flooding a few weeks ago caused Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi to declare a 30-day State of Emergency for the town. Among the extensive damages, flooding closed several streets throughout the town, destroyed public drain systems and wreaked havoc in many homes.

According to Mount Pleasant Highway Superintendent Richard Benkwitt, rebuilding and fortifying the downed and aging infrastructure would lessen impacts of future storms for flood prone areas, but would require a significant investment from town officials.

At last week’s town board meeting, Benkwitt asked that $4 million be added to next year’s Highway Department’s budget. If approved, the funds would go towards purchasing new kinds of equipment for repaving, drainage improvement, leaf pickup, snow removal, forestry and tree removal. If approved, $1 million would be spent on equipment, $1.5 million on drainage work and $1.5 million on paving.

Benkwitt argued if the town increased the operating and equipment budget lines, the Highway Department wouldn’t have to request future increases.

“Unfortunately, what I’m about to ask for doesn’t come easy,” he said. “Our operation is a very expensive operation and it’s very difficult to rebuild the Highway Department under the two percent tax cap. Our labor costs and health benefit costs totally ate up the two percent tax cap.”

Comptroller Brian Kenneally said a $4 million budget increase to the Highway Department would have to come from raising taxes.

“You have 60 to 70 percent of your operating budget for salaries,” he told Benkwitt. “There’s not a lot of room in your budget for all these increases. It will really have to come from taxation and that’s where things get difficult.”

Kenneally estimated a yearly tax increase to cover the higher budget lines could result in a 10 to 15 percent overall increase in town taxes. “If a house has an assessed value of $10,000, you could be paying $300 to $400 more on a town tax bill,” he explained.

For immediate financial relief, Kenneally suggested taking $1 million from the town’s fund balance. “It would be a one-shot deal good for one year,” he said.

While Councilman Tom Sialiano supported drawing from the fund balance, Fulgenzi objected to it.

“It’s not a good practice because it’s not good for our (credit) rating,” Fulgenzi said. “Right now we have a very good credit rating. You keep dipping into fund balance, that’s a negative.”

A $4 million increase to the highway budget wasn’t likely to happen for next year’s budget, Fulgenzi added.

Board members discussed how to fund the Highway Department without raising taxes or proposing a new bond.

The town is also looking to hire a firm that specializes in drainage mitigation and can survey the status of the town’s flood damage in low lying areas. The survey is expected to produce estimated repair costs— information needed for the town to apply for grant monies.

Fulgenzi said they were also pursuing a FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant to help with the drainage work. “We are going after some government financing to help pay to get the work done,” he said.

Councilwoman Laurie Smalley said the work the Highway Department has done has been highly valued and residents are very supportive. “The public has been crying for it. They see it and are very appreciative,” she said.

Benkwitt said residents who have experienced flooding and who are waiting for their neighborhood roads to be repaved or repaired should have a voice when voting on next year’s town budget.

“Maybe we should put up a proposition and let the taxpayers decide. People have now experienced failing infrastructure. Let the say yea or nay,” he said.


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