City wants Clean Fuel funds from state for propane school buses

Mayor Mark Lauretti
Mayor Mark Lauretti

Mayor Mark Lauretti is trying to reverse a state decision to deny the city a partial reimbursement for the purchase of propane-fuel school buses under the Connecticut Clean Fuel program.

“I’m kicking and screaming because it’s nonsense,” Lauretti said of the decision by the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

“Maybe they’re confused because we’re the first ones to try to use the program,” Lauretti said. “I mean if these buses don’t help air quality, I don’t know what does.”

Sixty buses have been ordered

The city is buying 60 new buses powered with propane to handle all student school transportation, and the first buses could be delivered as soon as next week.

The purchase will cost the city $5.5 million, and the city was hoping to get about $350,000 from the Clean Fuel program to help pay that tab.

The reimbursement amount is based on the difference between the cost of using regular fuel and alternative fuel to operate the buses. Propane is cheaper than regular gasoline.

Purchase predates the program?

State officials have said the city isn’t eligible for the energy-related reimbursement because its purchase was made prior to the Clean Fuel program being officially started and the regulations being finalized.

They also have said a somewhat similar situation occurred with Shelton in 2008 so the city should understand the need to follow guidelines.

‘We have deadlines to meet’

Shelton officials have said the purchase needed to be made when it was so all the buses would be delivered in time for the upcoming school year in late August.

“We have deadlines to meet and kids to pick up,” Lauretti said.

School Supt. Freeman Burr agreed. “If we’d waited for the guidelines to be in place to buy the buses, we wouldn’t have the buses for the upcoming school year,” he said.

Burr also is disappointed in the decision, having sent two follow-up letters to DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker. He pointed out nothing in the federal program — the state administers it — references “the timing of orders and program approval.”

He thinks if Shelton was a school system such as Bridgeport, which receives most of its budget through state funds, the state “would be falling over themselves to get the money to us.”

Unsure what happens next

It’s unclear if there is a formal appeal process, and Burr isn’t exactly sure what the city will do next to try to get the DOT to change its decision.

Lauretti hopes to get Shelton’ federal legislators involved.

Kevin Peak, the DOT official who sent the original rejection letter to the city, did not return a phone message or email seeking comment earlier this week. A more detailed denial letter from the state to Shelton officials later was received.

Despite the reimbursement setback, Burr said he is excited about the new propane buses. “In the long run it’s definitely a benefit to the city,” he said.