Towns Face Financial Burden Of Flood Repairs

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(Host) While the exact cost of fixing local flood damaged roads and bridges is still being tabulated, it’s clear that a number of communities will face large financial burdens to repair their transportation infrastructure.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the towns may have to ask the Legislature for help.

"Good morning everybody. Basically what I’d like to do is I’ll start off with a brief overview of what we have here of the disaster at hand."

(Kinzel) That’s Craig Gilbert, FEMA’s coordinating officer for flood recovery operations, speaking to a group of roughly 150 local officials on a special teleconference call.

Gilbert told the group that FEMA doesn’t have the money on hand to pay for their major expenses because Congress hasn’t reauthorized the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

(Gilbert) "We will continue to process that work but funds will not be obligated until money goes into the DRF."

(Kinzel) Last weekend, the town of Waterbury hired contractors to remove flood damaged items from dozens of homes and businesses. The debris had been piled up in front of the buildings.

FEMA spokesperson Fred Costello told Waterbury Town manager Bill Shepeluk that these expenses wouldn’t be covered and that prompted a strong reply from Shepeluk.

(Costello)"First of all careful with the debris because if it’s household debris a lot of that is not going to be public assistance eligible that comes under the individual program."

(Shepeluk) "But if it’s in the street people have taken it out of their houses and they’ve dumped it in the street I’m not going to go back and bill all these people for everything they’ve dumped in the road."

(Kinzel) FEMA officials reiterated their policy and Shepeluk wasn’t pleased with that response.

(Shepeluk) "So if it’s not eligible I won’t have to worry about how we’re going to pay for it we’ll just raise taxes next year and pay for it. So thank you."

(Kinzel) Steve Jeffrey is the director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He says local officials are moving as quickly as possible with their clean up efforts and may not have a FEMA rulebook at their side.

(Jeffrey) "The red tape and the fine print is a tremendously frustrating process for municipal officials who are just trying to help their communities come back from this devastating flood."

(Kinzel) While federal relief programs will pay 100 percent of the cost of repairing state roads and bridges, Jeffrey says the situation with town roads and bridges is different.  In these cases, towns will be responsible for roughly 12.5 percent of the costs and Jeffrey says it could be too great a burden for local property taxpayers.

(Jeffrey) "It may ultimately be that we have to come back to the Legislature and say this is beyond the capacity of the property tax to deal with. Please help by sharing some of the revenues that the state has."

(Kinzel) Jeffrey says he’s very pleased that a number of towns have set up their own volunteer groups to organize clean up activities in their communities.

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

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