Canton spending limited until FEMA money comes in

·2 min read

Jun. 15—CANTON — At a recent meeting, the Canton governing board opted to give employees a full day off near the July 4 holiday instead of a half-day off, and an all-employee picnic.

The change suited employees well, said Town Manager Nick Scheuer, and helped to save a bit of money during the trying time of flood recovery.

Canton Finance Director Natalie Walker explained the situation the town was facing in a Monday interview.

August flooding filled the town hall/police department, the fire department, the Canton armory, the Canton Area Historical Museum, the Champion Credit Union Aquatic Center and the Colonial Theater with water. In addition, the flood decimated most of the amenities at the Canton Recreation Park, including the playground and the dog park.

Thanks to a healthy fund balance that amounted to about 35% of the town's budget, the town was able to move forward quickly with restoration efforts, said Walker.

During disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency partners with states to help communities recover. The way the process works, Walker explained, is that town's handle needed work, keep track of spending and then the government will reimburse eligible costs. The federal government pays 90% of the bill and the states cover the remainder.

So far, Canton has spent nearly $1.1 million, with the bulk of those costs going toward building remediation a($630,160) and picking up vegetative debris $140,777.)

Other projects included repairing the recreation park's walking trail ($6,196) and boat ramp $6,105), restoring Camp Hope access by repairing the bridge $4,772) and spending about $260,000 to address issues at the pool, park and playground.

Once the projects have been approved, Walker said she understands the reimbursements should come in within 60-70 days, which would put the checks in the mail by the end of July.

The expenses haven't totally depleted the town's fund balance, Walker said, but it's put the skids on spending for anything that's not absolutely critical.

"It's a little worrisome," she said. "We're not out of money completely, be we are conserving greatly. I anticipate keeping that up until this money comes in."

Typically when a town budget is adopted, department heads are cleared to begin spending as of July 1.

In Canton's case, that included hiring new employees, purchasing vehicles and more. For now, all that has been put on hold.

"We've limited spending to necessary items and aren't filling any positions except the ones that are critical to fill," Walker said. "We're also holding off on any major purchases unless they are absolutely critical."

This is what the town's administrative team refers to as a "scalable" budget — one where in Walker's words, "we will do what we can when we can."

The situation could well lead to a lean summer for town spending in Canton, she said.