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Town seeks reserve funds to cover costs of winter storms

Date: 2/21/2014

By Carley Dangona

AGAWAM – This winter has brought numerous snowstorms and as a result, some communities have overspent their snow budgets.

As of Feb. 10, the town of Agawam had $73,600 left of its initial $456,000 snow and ice budget. Mayor Richard Cohen estimated that the amount had been depleted after three more storms occurred on Feb. 13, 15 and 18.

A motion to transfer $332,160 from the Reserve Fund and Salary Reserve Fund was to go before the City Council at its Feb. 18 meeting, which was cancelled due to inclement weather.

Cohen cited safety as the first priority. He said that the Department of Public Works (DPW) would never cease its snow and ice removal processes simply because the budget money ran out.

According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 44, Section 31D, municipalities are allowed to deficit spend in order to meet the snow and ice removal needs of a community.

The law states, “Any city or town may incur liability and make expenditures in any fiscal year in excess of available appropriations for snow and ice removal, provided that such expenditures are approved by the town manager and the finance or advisory committee in a town having a town manager, by the selectmen and the finance or advisory committee in any other town, by the city manager and the city council in a city having a city manager or by the mayor and city council in any other city; provided, however, that the appropriation for such purposes in said fiscal year equaled or exceeded the appropriation for said purposes in the prior fiscal year. Expenditures made under authority of this section shall be certified to the board of assessors and included in the next annual tax rate.”

Cohen attributed the high cost of this year to the fact that many of the storms have taken place in the evening and on the holidays, resulting in overtime since operations ran outside of normal business hours.

The mayor explained, “I take an average of the last three to five years to come up with the best possible number we can – the most accurate. Some winters we don’t spend and some winters we spend more.”

He said of the DPW, “Our guys take their jobs very seriously.” Cohen added that many of the residents had complemented the DPW on its ability to clear the roads thoroughly and quickly.