Federal funds could help counties recover from storm
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle Thursday requested federal money to reimburse municipalities for their Herculean efforts cleaning up after the snowstorm that socked southern Wisconsin Feb 5 through 7.
Thirteen counties, including Rock and Walworth, got record snowfalls in the storm on top of record snowfalls all winter.
The city of Janesville got about 15 inches of snow in the storm. The village of Orfordville was hit with 21.
The storm “really hit many local budgets hard,” Doyle said.
But it’s hard to say just how hard.
Jack Messer, Janesville public works director, said the city started putting labor and other costs into a special accounting code to separate this storm from others as soon as officials realized how bad the storm was going to be.
But it will take time to crunch those numbers, he said. The public works, police and fire departments all probably put in extra hours, Messer said. Phones were ringing off the hook. Crews were pulled off garbage routes and out of utility trucks and put into snowplows.
Not only will the separate coding help if Doyle’s office lands the federal cash, it will help Messer and his staff evaluate the city’s response to the storm, he said.
“Events like that don’t come along very often,” Messer said. “Extreme events force you to do something differently. You bring a higher level of focus to evaluating them.”
Phil Boutwell, assistant to the Rock County administrator, said the county will wait to crunch the numbers until after it knows if it will get some money.
“It’s already water under the bridge,” Boutwell said. “We know that there was a lot of overtime paid those days.”
Federal Emergency Management Assistance could pay municipalities back for up to 75 percent of costs associated with the storm, according to a news release from the governor’s office. If it agrees to do so, Rock County Emergency Management Coordinator Shirley Connors will gather the information from municipalities, Boutwell said.
It could take weeks or months to find out if the money will come through, he said.
Gov. Doyle’s request came as a surprise to officials in Walworth County.
“FEMA hasn’t been real proactive in snow emergency or snow event funding,” said Lt. Kevin Williams, emergency management coordinator for the county. “I’m not sure we’re going to get anything out of this.”
Williams and Mark Mullikin, public works department superintendent, both said they were going to put together costs lists to try and receive some federal aid.
“I just don’t know if we’re going to meet the threshold,” Williams said, noting he hadn’t started compiling disaster costs.
There were some overtime costs in the sheriff’s department, but that budget is in good shape so long as it doesn’t become a “busy year” for deputies, Williams said.
Mullikin thought the county might be eligible for overtime and road repair costs.
“You’re the first to tell me we were included in that,” Mullikin said when called by a Janesville Gazette reporter. “We’ll take a look at it and see if we qualify.”
Walworth County plow drivers have worked a cumulative 6,300 storm event hours this winter compared to 2,650 hours up to the same point last winter, Mullikin said.
Some roads also are deteriorating faster because of more freeze and thaw events. Highway 14 from Darien to the state line, Highway 11 from Delavan to the Rock County line and Highway 120 west out of Lake Geneva have significant pothole problems, Mullikin said.
But for the most part, Walworth County was able to keep ahead of the storm without any major issues.
“Things went really smoothly, so I’m not sure we’ll have any extraordinary costs that we can apply for,” Mullikin said.
Walworth County road crews, both county and municipal plows, kept most roads passable throughout the storm.
“The townships having their own highway departments and maintenance people, which certainly allows them to concentrate on town roads at the same time we’re doing state and county roads,” Mullikin said. “I don’t think Rock County had the luxury of saying that.”
Most of the snow fell on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, and Rock County had roads that were still impassable on Thursday, a Rock County public works official said earlier.
Walworth County has stretched its salt supply by using a salt-sand mixture. Salt supplies are in good shape again, Mullikin said.