State Announces Loan Program For Flood-Damaged Communities

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(Host) Governor Peter Shumlin has unveiled a plan to provide short and long term loans to communities that suffered extensive damage to their transportation infrastructure.

But as VPRs Bob Kinzel reports, the Governor is not enthusiastic about raising the state gas tax to help pay for the repairs.

(Kinzel) Although there are no firm estimates to measure the full impact of damage to local roads, bridges and culverts, it’s expected that the costs will run into several hundred million dollars.

Almost 2000 local road segments, 200 bridges and over 900 culverts were damaged. Today, 184 road segments and 94 bridges remain closed.

In most cases, towns will need to provide roughly 10 percent of the repair cost and the Governor announced several low interest loan programs to help these communities.

(Shumlin) "We recognize that whatever the local share might be, that this is going to put a strain on our local governments, a financial strain at a time when they need it the least."

(Kinzel) The loans are designed to help towns spread their costs out over a number of years, but in the end, the Governor says that local taxpayers will have to pick up much of this burden.

(Shumlin) "There’s no question that this is going to cost Vermonters money. We know that."

(Kinzel) Some lawmakers are suggesting that the state gas tax be raised to help offset some of these local costs.  Shumlin doesn’t like this idea.

(Shumlin) "Vermont was in trouble financially before Irene. We were struggling to balance our budgets. Vermonters are struggling to pay their property taxes, they’re struggling to buy gas and they’re struggling to pay all of their taxes in a really tough economy."

(Kinzel) Legislation allocating more money for FEMA is being considered in Congress and there are big differences between the House and Senate over how much money the Agency should get. Shumlin says this is no time to engage in political debates.

(Shumlin) "We really feel that we need to send a clear message to Washington. We’re on our knees – we didn’t ask for Irene. It came our way. We need your help right now and we need extraordinary help. We need the most help, not the least help, that you can offer us."

(Kinzel) Transportation Secretary Brian Searles says his Agency is making progress to repair the state transportation system but he says there’s still a lot of work to be done by winter.

(Searles) "The goal is two-lane travel, passable and maintainable all winter and to that level we’re about 70 percent there, but the final goal we’ve still got a ways to go."

(Kinzel) The Shumlin Administration is also seeking a federal waiver to allow the state to receive additional federal transportation repair funds.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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