Photo: A cry of desperation on a snow bank at Belmont Center.
Just how bad has the recent spate of snowstorms and blizzards been in Belmont?
It defeated the town’s brand new snowblower.
The Belmont Board of Selectmen could only shake their heads as Town Administrator David Kale revealed the machine recently purchased for the Department of Public Works for approximately $87,500 to clear town-owned and school sidewalks and other locations finally met its match after the third of four snow storms piled nearly 90 inches of snow on the town.
Lucky, the machine has “returned to service,” Kale told the Selectmen at its meeting on Monday night, Feb. 23.
Unfortunately, there is no fixing the busted budget for snow removal the town is facing. According to Kale, with payments for three of the four storms already in, the town’s expenses for plowing streets and removing snow has topped $1.1 million, nearly double the $600,000 allocated for the job in the fiscal 2015 budget.
The amount also exceeds the entire $400,000 general reserve account held by the Warrant Committee to resolve shortages for all of the town’s departments and the schools.
This comes at a time when the school budget is running a $500,000 shortfall in its current budget due to a spike in special education costs and higher enrollment.
The town has applied for Federal Emergency Management Authority monies to pay for the first storm that hit the region in January, yet any funds from Washington would likely come after the close of the fiscal year, said Kale.
The most likely course of action will for the town to going before Town Meeting in June to request a one-time transfer to cover the deficit using “free cash,” what Kale has called the town’s “savings account.”
“Free cash” is unspent money remaining at the end of the fiscal year including from budget line-items and any greater than expected tax or fee receipts.
In the past five years, the town’s free cash account has grown from around $2 million to $6.2 million in fiscal ’15.
Because the town hopes to keep the snow removal deficit in the $525,000 range, Kale said requests by business groups to remove the large snow mounts abutting sidewalks and making commerce difficult can not occur.