Saturday November 17, 2012

The Federal Emergency Management Agency still hasn't made a final determination on reimbursement requests for the millions the town of Bennington spent on stream clearing and other work following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Since the town spent -- and still is on the hook for -- $4 million in work in and around the Roaring Branch, which was clogged with debris in spots and sustained bank erosion, the lingering uncertainty is troubling.

News this week that FEMA has changed a policy for disaster-related work reimbursements that had blocked Bennington, Woodford and other towns from payments for work done was welcome. The catch is that the new policy was made retroactive to October 2012 and won't apply to Irene-related repair work unless there is another determination at the federal level.

This looming $4 million bill the town didn't plan for is unsettling enough, but Bennington's documented infrastructure needs also are hovering and could grow more acute if water line, sewer or other systems or town streets begin to deteriorate in key sections. Those on-the-horizon upgrades, which do not include any further work proposed at the Recreation Center or other recreation sites in town, or work at the hospital, which had planned major projects prior to the recession, would present a mountainous challenge for area residents if all the estimates were added together.

Even if FEMA comes through with all or a hefty chunk of the $4 million the town spent -- and we believe it should -- more openness about plans for dealing with multi-million dollar projects that might become urgent in the near future should be part of the upcoming town and school budgeting process.

Taxpayers are going to take a hit at some point -- no one doubts that -- but knowing more about the scope of the problems, the costs and the funding options prior to the March town meeting might make voters more agreeable, or at least more resigned, when the bills come due.