The Town Council approved spending $239,000 in contingency funds to cover snow-related work since the regular snow budget has already run dry. The contingency fund now has a balance of only $25,000.
As news of roof collapses began to spread across the state about two weeks ago, town officials decided to call in engineers to make certain that none of the school roofs in town were in danger of collapse. And with town crews working around the clock, officials also decided to hire contractual workers to help remove snow from school roofs and town buildings.
“This work was not cheap,” said Town Manager, Denise McNair. “It was immediate work that needed to be done.” McNair said it cost $83,000 to cover the services of structural engineers and the services of contractors to remove snow on roofs.
An additional amount of $156,130 was needed to cover other snow removal expenses. “It wasn’t just the roofs that had to be cleared, but the streets and all of the equipment that broke down during the storms as well,” said McNair.
“The amount hurts,” said Mayor Adam Salina, “but the bill to reconstruct a portion of a roof or school that had a failure would have been 10 times this amount.” Salina noted that unlike other districts, Berlin did not have any school closures due to roof issues. He credited the town staff for assessing the situation and working long hours to assure that buildings were safe and roads were clear. “I know the amount of work that went into this,” he said. “There were no injuries, everyone was safe and we got the job done.”
Finance Director Jim Wren said that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared a disaster for the January 12-13 blizzard. As a result, Berlin submitted over $70,000 in expenses for reimbursement from the federal government. Wren indicated that while FEMA typically reimburses about 75% of the costs, he doesn’t know yet what the percentage will be or exactly when Berlin will get the reimbursement.
Another topic raised at the Town Council meeting was the fate of the local post offices. Mayor Salina said his understanding of the situation is that Berlin will no longer have its own post office. Apparently, Berlin residents will still receive mail delivery and will still be able to buy stamps and send mail, but they will have to drive to New Britain to pick up or sign for any incoming mail or packages.
Berlin resident Frank Masselle said that starting in April all of the routes in Berlin, Kensington and East Berlin will work out of the New Britain Post Office. Masselle, who worked at the Kensington Post Office for 42 years, said mail will still be delivered in Berlin, but since the carriers will be working out of New Britain, Berlin residents will need to drive to the New Britain Post Office in many circumstances such as signing for certified mail, picking up a package that needs a signature or paying postage-due. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find a parking place, and when you get in the building you’re going to wait in a long line,” said Masselle who also questioned what will happen to the more than 500 businesses and patrons who receive mail in a post office box in Berlin. Where those boxes will be relocated is unclear at this time. “What they are planning will have adverse affect on every citizen and business in this town,” said Masselle. He urged members of the Town Council to do whatever they can to keep the town’s local post offices.
Mayor Salina said he is concerned about the issue as well and that he will discuss it with Congressman John Larson when he meets with him next Thursday in Washington D.C. “Consolidation is one thing, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to take something away from us like this,” he said.
The Town is also moving forward on an “aggressive schedule” to rehabilitate the Berlin Train Station. Economic Development Director Jim Mahoney said the town is currently heading into the final design phase of the project. During Tuesday night’s meeting, the Town Council approved a contract with Michael Baker Engineering, Inc. for design work. Mahoney hopes to have the designs by July so the job can go out to bid in September and construction can begin in the spring.
“Generally, the public has been supportive of the project,” said Mahoney. “The town at this point doesn’t have any financial obligation in the sense that we have the federal grants, and the state is providing a matching grant through STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) funds. There’s no local cost to this.” Mahoney said this is appropriate since the station building is owned by Amtrak and the parking lot is owned by the State Department of Transportation. Mayor Salina added that while it’s still “our money” from state and federal taxes, it’s better if we use those funds in Berlin rather than surrender them to a surrounding town.