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Sandy Costs Watchung $359K

Council will seek to recoup money from the federal government.

The fiscal pain of Superstorm Sandy will linger for Watchung taxpayers long after the last fallen tree limb is picked up.

To pay for expenses incurred during the storm, the Borough Council on Monday approved an emergency appropriation of $359,130. The borough is hoping that the federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse the money, said Councilman Thomas Franklin.

FEMA has reimbursed the borough for expenses associated with Hurricane Irene in August 2011. The borough received the money last month and is still waiting for a reimbursement for costs from the October 2011 snowstorm.

The emergency appropriation, the borough’s first since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, is a “necessary evil,” Franklin said.

“We have to restore, rebuild and clean up,” Franklin said.

Under state law, the emergency appropriation can be paid back over five years, with at least 20 percent to be paid in each year. However, Franklin explained, the borough has the option of paying it off more quickly.

The expenditure will be excluded from the borough’s budget cap and may cost taxpayers two additional points on property tax bills, Franklin said.

The biggest part of the emergency appropriation is $236,000 in expenses other than salaries for the Department of Public Works.

Also contributing to the appropriation is $60,000 in salaries for Public Works salaries and $45,000 for police department salaries. Other expenses include $5,000 for gasoline, $3,000 for natural gas and $3,000 for the Office of Emergency Management.

Borough Administrator Thomas Atkins told the mayor and council members that he attended a meeting with FEMA officials on Monday. “They’re overwhelmed,” Atkins said. “It’s a massive undertaking.”

Atkins said the borough will continue preparing its paperwork for FEMA. “We’re going to do the best we can,” he said.

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