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Gold, Candaras spar over clean-up costs

Date: 1/30/2012

Jan. 30, 2012

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW — For the Select Board and its chair, Mark Gold, it was the second time that was the charm.

Gold sent a letter to State Sen. Gale Candaras on the board’s behalf on Dec. 22, 2011 with a request for aid from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to cover its costs from the clean-up of the Oct. 29, 2011 snowstorm, but said he received no acknowledgement.

“We sent a similar letter to [State] Rep. Brian Ashe and he has been very responsive,” Gold said. “Sen. Candaras has yet to respond.”

Gold credited Ashe with bringing Robert DeLeo, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Longmeadow, a move, he said, that has been much appreciated by the town.

“It was just tremendous,” he said. “[DeLeo] had the chance to visit with us, see the damage and ask us ‘What do you want us to do? What can we do to help?’”

Ashe’s actions have made Candaras’ lack of attention more visible, Gold added.

“I’m a little more critical of our State Senator. She hasn’t been here at all and we need her to be. We need both houses of the state Legislature to help,” he said. “She didn’t come out here and I’m afraid her perception of what happened here is skewed.”

Gold suggested that the fact that Longmeadow was able to clean-up so quickly after the storm has cast a perception that the damage was not severe, but stressed that such an assumption would be misguided.

“We removed nearly 295,000 cubit feet of debris,” he said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

Shortly after Gold’s comments were made, Candaras responded with an email acknowledging the board’s request for aid and her chief of staff, Aaron Saunders, responded to Gold’s statements to Reminder Publications.

“Longmeadow continues to be a priority for Gale,” he said. “Whether it be her work on this project [of securing funds for communities affected by the storm] or her part in securing [Massachusetts School Building Authority] funds for the new high school, her record in Longmeadow speaks for itself and would lead any reasonable person to be puzzled by the assertion that she does not view Longmeadow as a priority.”

Saunders added that Candaras was in Longmeadow, despite having had gallbladder surgery the day before the storm.

“Normally we leave Gale’s personal life private, but she spent the days following the storm in a hotel room recovering instead of in her home as she should have been,” he said. “And she was in Longmeadow. She was at the emergency shelter and she toured parts of the town. She didn’t notify every public official she was doing this because that is not the way she likes to go about things and she likes to be able to see things on her own. She certainly was in Longmeadow despite having issues of her own.”

Gold’s letter requested an extension on the town’s ability to borrow money in emergency situations. According to state law, municipalities can borrow funds to pay off debts incurred during emergency situations, such as the Oct. 29, 2011 storm for two years.

Gold pointed out that while he doesn’t believe the town will have to wait two years for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), having the authority to borrow past the two year limit would ease the burden on residents.

“If FEMA comes though in six months, then this isn’t a big deal, but if FEMA drags their feet in some way, it could be,” he said. “It’s not critical as of this point, but it might become critical.”

Candaras pointed out that such action has been taken.

“I am happy to report that the Senate, in a recent bill, provided the Director of Accounts with the authority to extend the time allotted for short term borrowing associated with the storm,” she said. “This measure will allow impacted cities and towns to address immediate costs without having the negative effect on debt service obligations that would otherwise occur with the current two year limit.”

Gold’s letter also requests the ability for the town to use a low-cost or zero-cost loan for towns affected by the storm. Gold asserted that while the town is estimating $9 million in reimbursement from FEMA, it is still on the hook for what could be up to $270,000 in interest charges.

“There is a cost to borrowing,” Gold said. “Longmeadow borrowed $12 million. That’s a lot of money with interest attached to it and that interest may or may not be reimbursed through FEMA.”

The letter also requests a bill be introduced that would commit the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to paying “all or a portion of the reimbursed costs of storm clean-up.”

Candaras indicated that she would not be able to initiate any discussion or file any legislation in this regard.

“With regard to state funding assistance, I cannot file an independent bill to reimburse cities and towns because all stand alone appropriation bills are Constitutionally required to originate in the House of Representatives. This does not interfere with my work to address the issue through spending bills that come to the Senate. As I continue to work towards this funding goal, it would be useful for my office to have the dollar amount of FEMA approved costs for which Longmeadow is responsible,” she said.

The final request from the board would allow towns to use restricted funds, such as Community Preservation Act or Chapter 90 highway improvement monies, to replant trees in public ways and parks.

“This allowance would, at no additional cost to the Commonwealth, provide a means of financing the replanting of trees lost to any of these natural disasters,” Gold said.

Candaras responded by saying that she has spoken with Secretary of Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan regarding the replanting of trees.

“I am hopeful that working with the secretary we will have an opportunity for towns to restore their tree belts,” she said.

Candaras also said her scheduler would arrange a time to meet with the Select Board in the near future.

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