With rising costs stemming from Tropical Storm Isaac, the Wellington Village Council last week agreed to transfer extra money into its disaster relief fund to cover expenses.
But council members also directed staff Oct. 23 to bring fund transfers back before council in $100,000 increments so as not to dry up the well.
In September, council members approved transferring $500,000 from the fund to cover expenses related to the storm, but Village Manager Paul Schofield said that about $94,000 more is needed to cover improvements and repairs.
Schofield noted that the council could choose to transfer an estimated amount, or transfer funds when the exact cost of repairs and upgrades is known.
“We can either proceed this way, or we’d be happy to bring back to you the specific contract,” he said. “In some cases, the damage is known. But, for example, we know we have more asphalt repair to do, but we can’t tell you specifically how much. It’s still cropping up, and this bill will grow larger.”
Schofield said that Wellington has spent about $516,000 on repairs, and the extra money would help replenish the capital maintenance budget.
Wellington could see a reimbursement from the federal government, he noted.
“The federal government has now issued a declaration providing disaster relief funds for Tropical Storm Isaac,” Schofield said. “What that will do is make us eligible for a 75 percent reimbursement for related expenses, which not only are damage repairs, but also some of the mitigation items.”
Such improvements include pump station upgrades and elevating South Shore Blvd.
“We can pay for these out of the capital maintenance budget and then come back to the council for transfer of funds,” he said.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he’d rather see exact figures than authorize unneeded funds.
“I’d like to see you come back to us when you have more accurate numbers and know what we need,” he said. “I think it’s better to bring us back exact and accurate numbers. When you pay for something, you want to know what the cost is.”
Willhite added that he wants residents to know where the money is being spent. “Then they’ll know more about what we’ve done, instead of writing a blank check for what you need,” he said.
Schofield suggested that his staff return with transfers in increments of $100,000. “We’re happy to do that,” he said. “The council already transferred $500,000. We can come back in 100,000 increments as we spend money. That may depend on when we get [in federal] reimbursements.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates was concerned about staff having to spend $100,000 before coming back to the council. “Aren’t you essentially spending un-budgeted money?” he asked.
Schofield said that his staff could spend from the capital maintenance budget and then replenish it when then council transfers funds.
“There is money there,” he said. “As we spend for the unexpected costs associated with Tropical Storm Isaac, we will identify them specifically and then come back to you.”
He assured the council that the money wouldn’t be spent carelessly. “The reason for the $100,000 increments is so that we don’t get so far into [the fund],” Schofield said.
But Coates said he didn’t feel that council was getting the opportunity to approve expenditures.
“You’re asking us to ratify what you’ve done, not approve it,” he said. “I find it quite difficult to reject something once it’s been done. What if council doesn’t approve? What if you come back to us and say you spent $100,000 and we say you shouldn’t have?”
Schofield said that many of the repairs are necessary and cannot wait for approval, citing concerns of asphalt washed away in the flood waters. “That is the type of thing we’re talking about,” he said.
But Coates persisted. “I don’t like things coming before the council for us to make a decision when there is no decision to be made,” he said. “When you say you’ve spent $100,000 for storm cleanup and we need to approve it — come on, we’re not approving anything. You’ve already done it.”
But Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz pointed out that council members would be approving only the transfer of funds. “You’re not approving the expenditure,” he clarified.
Schofield agreed. “Based on what I heard from you, you’d rather transfer the money when you know the actual costs, rather than what we think it will cost,” he said.
Willhite noted that larger projects, which will go out for bid, will come before council members for approval as well.
He made a motion to deny the resolution to transfer the funds, but Councilwoman Anne Gerwig suggested council members take the opportunity now to transfer the extra $16,375 already spent.
Willhite amended his motion to cover the extra funds, and it passed unanimously.