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Flood recovery dominates county board agenda

Fri, Sep 28th, 2007
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Fillmore County commissioners faced a full agenda at their September 25 meeting with most issues relating to the recent flooding in southeastern Minnesota. A group of people from several organizations and departments detailed their efforts in finding monetary relief to help get flood victims back to some normalcy. Perhaps the greatest negative is the fact that these efforts and monies to be eventually made available will take time and will not be immediate.

Chris Gastner, Economic Development Authority (EDA), explained a number of efforts to obtain funding for lower income residents. The board unanimously passed three resolutions allowing the county to apply for financial assistance from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (Deed).

Michelle Vrieze, SE MN Development Corporation (SEMDC), described the first application to be submitted by October 4 for income eligible families of low and moderate incomes in small cities in the county, not in the flooded areas. The funds to be applied for could help rehab twenty five homes with as much as $24,000 per home. One city involved would be Ostrander which has termite problems. Funds for twenty commercial applications, for development will be applied for, making as much as $30,000 available per qualifying business.

Wayne Stenberg, Semcac, spoke of what he called "just one more pot of money of several pots coming into the area." He described a joint venture involving Semcac, SEMDC, Small Cities Development Program (SCDP) and MN DEED and their pre-application for grant funds for assistance to single family owner occupied homes and businesses with flood damage. With this joint application the group can ask for $1.4 million to target Rushford and outlying areas.

The money would be used to address the most severe needs in the area and the DEED work would be based on need resulting from the flood. Stenberg added that the funds coming will have many layers and from different sources, loaned at different rates and some will be forgivable. Funds from DEED will be long term and probably won't become available until next year. If both applications, the one for non-flooded small cities and flooded small cities, were approved and awarded the county could bring in as much as $2.8 million for rehab and development. The money would come through the county board and be administered by the EDA, Semcac, and SEMDC. Commissioner

Randy Dahl acknowledged that some people will fall through the cracks as monies are limited and their distribution will be based on the greatest need. People are frustrated by the long process, rules and regulations, and endless paperwork.

Ron Zeigler, Director of SEMDC, called the third resolution all encompassing as it included anything related to flood damage in Fillmore County with the exceptions of Rushford and Rushford Village which will provide a separate application. He said that they will need to get figures together of all the estimated damages to apply for state assistance by October 5. This will include damages to infrastructure, businesses, and parks. Zeigler added that agencies "are shaking bushes to get as much assistance as possible to the flood area." Commissioner Duane Bakke added that the money will be slow in coming and won't be available the next day. Dahl expressed his gratitude to the organizations in place and their efforts in applying for funds as well as the state legislators and the governor for their aid.

Abatements and Disaster Credits

Assessor Robert Pickett advised the board of the law changes made at the recent special session of the state legislature. He stated that any property with more than 50% damage would have the second half of their property taxes forgiven for 2007. The legislature appropriated about $1,000,000 to cover abatements in the flood areas along with fire damage in Cook County earlier this year. Pickett expects about $235,000 of that total to go to Fillmore County to be divided among all of the taxing districts affected in the county. This includes both residential and business properties that suffered over 50% damage.

Pickett added that damaged properties have already been reassessed. The board will receive a list of properties with over 50% damage in the county and it will be up to them to grant the abatements. Bakke felt it was safe to say that the county should be reimbursed by the state for property tax losses in 2007. Pickett will go back to reassess properties in the flood affected areas in January 2008. The reassessment process will go on for a number of years while victims rebuild.

The board passed a resolution requesting a reassessment of damaged homestead property from the August 19 flood for a possible special tax credit in 2008. Property owners with damaged property will have to sign up in 2008 to receive the special tax credit.

Emergency Management

Deborah Teske, Emergency Management Director, updated the board on the flood disaster. She said that Rushford is moving into the long term recovery phase because much of the clean up is done. FEMA will continue to be in Rushford but they are changing their focus to the SBA loan center. There still will be some work with grants. She noted that FEMA trailers are coming in and that around thirty are expected. Dahl added that there is a waiting list for the trailers. Volunteers are needed, but the effort is transitioning to rebuilding from clean up. Teske made clear it will be a long process.

Teske stated that Fillmore County does not have a hazard mitigation plan. Houston County is without such a plan also. Teske said that she has had calls from cities and townships about a plan. She said that building a plan would take a lot of planning and effort and she asked the board for their consensus to go ahead with the process. A plan would involve the building of dikes or possibly the buying of homes or property to remove structures from areas prone to floods. The plan would be a preventative effort to limit future hazards. As Chairman Marc Prestby noted, it would not help flooded areas like Rushford now. To develop a plan for Fillmore County would require engineers to make it fit the county. Teske estimated that it would take eighteen months to develop and to receive approval from both state and federal governments. Without the plan some federal funding would be unavailable like funds to purchase structures in flood prone areas. Ninety percent of the counties in the state already have a hazard mitigation plan.

Teske suggested that Fillmore County may want to partner with Houston County. Commissioner Chuck Amunrud asked what advantages such a partnership would have. Teske said that information and engineering costs could be shared. Amunrud requested that she look into the cost of an individual plan as opposed to a partnership plan. Bakke insisted that we are a lot different than Houston County and that the partnership may not be a good fit. Dahl said that it needs to be determined what is and is not in a flood plain. The board gave its consensus to move forward and gather more information toward developing a plan.

Debris Removal Grant

The board approved the acceptance of a Debris Removal Grant for the flooded areas. County Coordinator Karen Brown offered a draft for application criteria and procedures. The grant came out of the special session of the state legislature. A committee composed of the auditor/treasurer, assessor, solid waste administrator, emergency management director, and one commissioner, Marc Prestby, will meet once per week or as needed to review and determine awards.

The seven flood damaged counties will all receive grant money for debris removal. Fillmore, Winona, and Houston Counties will each receive $500,000. The four other lessor affected counties will receive $250,000 each. Teske added that the state agrees that demolition costs are part of the debris removal costs. These funds are for residences with the exception of the trailer park. Many of the trailers have been abandoned, leaving them as a problem for the trailer park owner. It is agreed that the owner can be reimbursed for the removal of the trailers. Teske added that property owners have to have applied for an SBA loan but don't have to take the loan to qualify.

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