Schenectady County

Flooded Rotterdam Junction a fiscal disaster

The impact of flooding in Rotterdam Junction on the town’s budget is staggering.

The impact of flooding in Rotterdam Junction on the town’s budget is staggering.

In the immediate aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, town police burned through roughly an eighth of their annual overtime budget. The town’s Highway Department ate through roughly half its fund balance in order to clear debris and refuse from the flood-ravaged hamlet.

“It’s creating a huge budgetary issue for us,” Deputy Supervisor Robert Godlewski said this week.

One estimate puts the costs incurred from the cleanup in excess of $300,000. To put that in perspective, that alone would drive about a 3 percent tax increase in the 2012 budget.

On Wednesday, members of the Town Board approved a $51,000 expenditure to cover the cost incurred when Schenectady’s transfer station accepted tons of debris collected from Rotterdam Junction. The cost is the first of about $168,000 in waste-removal bills the town is anticipating, with another $40,000 expected in the coming months.

Employee overtime is expected to run the town about $70,000. That cost was split almost equally between the Highway Department and police.

“And that will probably go up some more,” said Comptroller Anthony Tangarone.

Town officials have even more dire predictions of the costs they’ll likely face in coming months. The hamlet is already contending with untold damage to its infrastructure, including cracked roads, plugged drains and water pipes that may rupture once the still-saturated ground freezes.

“It’s catching up to us now,” Rotterdam Junction Fire Chief Shawn Taylor said of the damage to the hamlet’s aging infrastructure. “It’s catching up to us big-time.”

Godlewski said there still is no clear indication of what federal funding will cover in terms of flooding costs.

Even worse, he’s not sure when that funding will come through, meaning the town could have to wait for more than a year for reimbursement.

“We have to pay our employees, and we have to pay those costs,” he said, “but we’re not going to see that money until 2013.”

Town officials are also unsure whether homes in Rotterdam Junction will be eligible for the state’s federally funded hazard mitigation grant program. The state will split the cost of buying certain disaster-prone properties with a municipality so they can be demolished and the land kept vacant.

Some residents in the worst-hit areas of Rotterdam Junction have urged the town to enter the program. About a dozen homes along Isabella Street and Scrafford Lane are uninhabitable and will likely be demolished, while 32 others were flooded up to the second floor.

“We’re in the perfect scenario for this,” said Dave Orologio, an Isabella Street resident whose property sustained flood damage twice in the past three years. “There are at least five houses that people are probably going to walk away from.”

But the parameters of the program will take up to three months to be defined by the state, leaving the town and Rotterdam Junction property owners wondering whether it will even be possible. Town Supervisor Frank Del Gallo said he believes Rotterdam would need to front the total cost of the program, then seek reimbursement.

“We’re going to have to bond the money,” he said. “We don’t have the money to take those houses down.”

In the meantime, the town will have to wait for answers. It’s a painful response Del Gallo grudgingly gives, but the only one he can until the bleak financial outlook becomes clearer.

“They’re not going to like it, but they’re going to have to wait like we are,” he said.

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