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September 13, 2013

 

Seward details flooding plan

Proposed legislation will set up state fund to aid homeowners

By STEVEN HOWE
Staff Reporter
showe@cortlandstandardnews.net

State Sen. Jim Seward on Thursday outlined proposed legislation that would create a state fund to assist homeowners impacted by flooding or other disasters.
He unveiled a six-point plan for disaster relief and preparedness at the Cortland County Office Building.
The proposed legislation was created in response to damages that counties, including Cortland County, received as a result of floods in July and August that did not result in any federal relief for homeowners. The noticeable increase in damaging storms also helped to prompt the legislation.
“There’s no question there’s been a change in weather patterns,” said Seward (R/C/I-Oneonta).
The primary piece of the bill is the creation of Funding Emergency Relief Now, or FERN, which would set aside state funds solely to assist homeowners when funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other federal entities is denied.
“Current policies and procedures aren’t working for smaller scale weather events,” Seward said.
Floods in July that caused widespread damage in Cortland and Tioga counties received federal assistance but only public assistance was granted. That left many homeowners with extensive damage to their properties and no state or federal aid to offset the cost of repairs or cleanup.
“The biggest need has been for personal assistance,” said Scott Roman, the county’s director of Emergency Response. “We struggled with the storm in July. There was a presidential order but no personal relief.”
There was no federal relief at all for the flooding in August. The community of Blodgett Mills was hit especially hard by those floods with debris and damage still being cleaned up. Sheila Peak spoke during the press conference, representing property owners in Blodgett Mills. She said that her property was contaminated and that her truck was swept down the driveway and damaged by debris.
“It took forever,” Peak said of a government response. “We need a better plan.”
Another source of proposed relief for property owners would be a state income tax credit against property taxes paid for homes or business that are damaged. Since assessments are based upon the value of a property in March, damage later in the year from flooding or other disasters is not accounted for when school and property taxes are due. Those with property damage would have the opportunity to recoup the loss of property value in the next filing of income taxes.
Seward’s bill also requires that reimbursement payments from the state to local governments be paid within 60 days or additional bonus payments would be required to cover the cost of borrowing funds for relief. The change would simplify and expedite the funding process for local governments struggling after a natural disaster, Seward said.
While there was an emphasis on financial assistance for property owners following a disaster, the bill also would include measures to help mitigate the effects of future natural disasters, with an emphasis on flooding.
The proposed legislation includes the creation of a state task force on flood prevention designed to create more comprehensive plans for the prevention of future flood damages.
Members of the task force would include representatives from the Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Homeland Security and soil and water conservation districts, among others. Seward said the task force would be involved in assessing and promoting projects such as dredging creeks to improve water flow while preventing overflowing. The legislation only deals with bodies of water, such as creeks or rivers under state control. Review of local development projects and stormwater systems would remain under the review of municipal governments.
Additional funding from the environmental protection fund would be made available to soil and water conservation districts, however, for the planning of stormwater drainage and other efforts to mitigate flood damage under their jurisdiction. The additional funding in the legislation was well received by Amanda Barber, district manager of the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District.
“I think that you recognize there’s an immediate need to respond but it’s important to look forward to the future,” she said. “Having additional funding for soil and water really is exciting, so we can do more.”
The proposed bill will be brought before the state Legislature when the 2014 session begins in January. Also working on the legislation are state senators Joseph Griffo (R-Rome), Hugh Farley (R-Schenectady) and David Valesky (D-Oneida).

 

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