Shumlin wants $25 million more to cover Irene damages

Tuesday December 13, 2011

MONTPELIER -- Gov. Peter Shumlin is asking lawmakers to add nearly $25 million to Vermont’s general fund budget to pay for costs related to Tropical Storm Irene.

Finance and Management Commissioner James Reardon on Monday listed items to be included in a budget adjustment request from the administration, ranging from more than $690,000 for supplies and equipment used by National Guard personnel in responding to the emergency to $1.75 million for cleaning up spills of petroleum products caused by flooding.

The extra spending isn’t expected to trigger tax increases in a state that began this fiscal year, July 1, with a $40 million surplus.

"There’s not going to be any need to raise taxes," Reardon said.

The budget request represents just a fraction of the total cost of the Aug. 28 storm, which triggered widespread flooding that wiped out roads and inundated entire towns. In all, the costs are expected to total between $88 million and $99 million, officials say.

Most of the cleanup is being paid for by the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief funds and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; cities, towns and private insurance companies also are chipping in.

In at least one instance, the state seems to have come out ahead because of Irene.

When the torrential rains fell, the Winooski River overflowed its banks and flooded the state complex in Waterbury that housed the Vermont State Hospital and the headquarters of state agencies, including the Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Natural Resources.

The state hospital, built in the early 1890s, was in need of replacement. It was decertified by the federal government in 2003, meaning its patients were not eligible for federal Medicaid and Medicare funding.

Patients who would have been at the state hospital now are being cared for in other facilities, where federal funding is available. That arrangement is expected to reduce the state’s costs by more than $4 million, Reardon said.

Reardon called the overall cost estimates "fluid and subject to change." He noted that Irene wasn’t the only event prompting budget changes for the fiscal year that began July 1.

When lawmakers convene in January each year, early agenda items include a budget adjustment bill to address spending issues from the previous six months. For instance, a push to trim costs that Shumlin announced after he took office in January has fallen short of its $12 million goal by about $2.6 million, and Reardon said that shortfall will need to be filled.


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