Carroll County and its eight municipalities are eligible to apply for federal relief on up to 75 percent of the money they spent cleaning up last month's record-setting snowstorm, state emergency officials said yesterday.
State figures estimate that the county and its municipalities spent $1.2 million on the huge cleanup between Feb. 14 and 17. Although the governments might not be able to recoup a full 75 percent of that total, officials said they will seek compensation for as many expenses as possible.
Relief or no relief, the county will exceed its snow removal budget for 2003, said Benton Watson, director of the bureau of roads.
"But that doesn't mean a few hundred thousand dollars wouldn't help tremendously," he said.
Watson estimated that the county is $700,000 over its snow budget, with at least $450,000 of that attributable to the big storm. County backup funds will cover the excess expense not paid for by federal dollars.
The relief money also could help municipalities manage their much smaller budgets, expected to be strained by snow removal.
Officials from counties and municipalities across the state crowded into an auditorium at Camp Fretterd near Reisterstown yesterday to learn how to apply for the $55 million pot of federal money that will go to the state. State officials said such work sessions usually draw about 100 people, but yesterday's drew closer to 200.
"I can you see you all heard the call about free money," said Donald L. Keldsen, the state's director of emergency management.
The county and municipalities are eligible for the federal money because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared a state of emergency during the storm. President Bush endorsed the declaration in a letter March 14 to Ehrlich.
Local governments must document their expenses from the storm and send their applications to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The money would cover overtime costs, contract work, equipment maintenance and chemical and salt supplies for any 48-hour period during the storm cleanup.
Part of the effort to get the most money possible will be choosing the costliest 48-hour stretch of the storm, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works for Westminster, which spent $100,000 to $150,000 cleaning up the storm.
Beyard said state and federal officials have been more cooperative in offering municipalities relief money than they were during the last major snowstorm in 1996.
"I think they realize how difficult this one was," he said. "All of us will have to sit down and adjust our budgets to deal with the snow cost at some point, but now, it may not have to be such a large adjustment."
Sykesville Town Manager Matthew Candland said he has not figured out how much his town spent on snow removal, but added that the federal relief would be welcome.
"It certainly blew our budget," he said of the storm.