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Cuomo: Federal flood help is unlikely

Governor says he’ll call Legislature back

July 9, 2013
Updated 11:43 p.m.
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(PATRICK DODSON / GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to Andrea Bouch outside her flood damaged home alongside the Otsquago Creek on Reid Street in the village of Fort Plain on Monday, July 1, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
(PATRICK DODSON / GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to Andrea Bouch outside her flood damaged home alongside the Otsquago Creek on Reid Street in the village of Fort Plain on Monday, July 1, 2013.

— Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not optimistic about receiving federal funds to help Mohawk Valley communities recover from recent flooding.

While in Buffalo on Tuesday, the governor said he will bring the state Legislature back to Albany to find some way to help individuals, businesses and local municipalities impacted by flooding if a federal disaster isn’t declared and federal assistance isn’t forthcoming.

An early state estimate, which surveyed just a few damaged communities in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, put the rebuilding cost at $13 million. The state is expected to qualify for federal disaster aid based on projections of the total damage. But a conversation Tuesday with federal officials did not leave Cuomo “overly optimistic” that a federal disaster declaration is coming.

“I’ve been pushing very hard. I’ve pushed our federal officials to push very hard,” he said. “At this point I’m not cautiously optimistic. … If we can’t get the federal funds, as governor of this state, the state will step up. … We will not leave those homeowners on their own. That’s not what New Yorkers do.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, whose district includes the hard-hit village of Fort Plain, said he is prepared to go back to Albany but is still hoping that federal funds are made available.

“If the federal government declines to issue a declaration, I think we have to go back into session and help the people that were impacted,” he said.

No matter what the federal government does, state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, whose district includes Fort Plain, will be advancing an assessment relief bill designed to help property owners who have suffered damage. The bill, which was introduced Tuesday, would allow flood victims in Montgomery County to grieve their property assessment to the local Board of Assessment Review, and local assessors would be authorized to request that assessments of seriously damaged homes be based on the property’s after-flood value.

Tkaczyk noted that school tax bills will be due in just a few months. In the case of the Fort Plain Save-a-Lot, which was destroyed by the flooding, she said, “They’re not going to be in a position to pay [their tax bill].”

Similar programs have been implemented before, including after tropical storms Irene and Lee, when Tkaczyk said a Duanesburg home that was washed away was taken off the tax rolls and the school district absorbed the lost revenue. In cases where the revenue will be missed, like the Montgomery County budget, she said the state might have to fill those gaps.

Santabarbara will soon introduce a version of the bill in the Assembly.

Minden town Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush, a Republican, said it is inevitable that local governments, including Minden, will lose revenue due to houses being taken off the tax rolls. “It sure would be nice if [the state] could offset the costs,” he said.

It’s not clear how much the state could afford to help flood victims without federal aid, as Cuomo said the state doesn’t have the money that the federal government could spend on recovery. If there is a federal disaster declaration, then the federal government will pay as much as 75 percent of recovery costs.

A timetable for a federal disaster declaration hasn’t been announced, but Tkaczyk said it would likely come in the next few days if it comes at all.

If federal aid is made available, Quackenbush said there needs to be a focus on mitigation projects that prevent future flooding. Without preventative measures, he said that rebuilding homes and businesses would be a waste of money.

But after seeing the flood recovery efforts in Montgomery County in 2006 and 2011, Quackenbush is skeptical that the federal government will act.

“Declare the damn place a disaster as it should be and stop playing games,” he said.

 

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