County to lead in buyout program
Pine County is expected to be the lead agency to assist in the flood recovery buying program for those people hit hard by the record July flooding in the northern part of the county.
Last Tuesday afternoon, the meeting room in Sandstone was packed with interested citizens and flood victims on what the county could do to help facilitate access to the programs.
Representatives from the DNR, East Central Regional Development Commission, Emergency Management, Assessor’s Office, and Land and Zoning were all in attendance at the meeting.
The county board gave direction to Administrator David Minke to meet with these parties to best determine how Pine County could help these victims.
In early October, around 80 people attended a meeting in Rutledge on the flood buyout program. There are three programs, two of which are federal and one state, that could help some flood victims.
For properties that are condemned and in a flood plain, there is a FEMA public assistance program. The Homeland Security and Emergency Management have a hazard mitigation grant program for home owners that had 50 percent or more damage and are in a flood plain. The DNR flood damage reduction program is for people who may be in or out of the flood plain, and had substantial damages to their homes but were not eligible for the first two programs.
The general provisions of the program would be to pay the pre-flood value to the property owner, in addition to demolition and disposal costs. Property ownership would then transfer to the local unit of government with generally no future development on the property. The state program can take up to six months while the federal programs can take up to three years.
All of these programs are voluntary and property owners could withdraw at any time.
Minke said the county could hire a project manager to oversee the program, and be reimbursed later for the costs. This person would be charged with working with local entities on the program.
If all eligible property owners participate, the effect on the Pine County tax base would be small, said Troy Stewart, Deputy Assessor. But, for the communities affected by the flooding, the impact would be large.
In Rutledge, if all homeowners took part, that community would lose about 20 percent of its tax base. The City of Sturgeon Lake would lose 15 percent. The City of Willow River, along with Sturgeon Lake and Kettle River Townships would lose around 2-3 percent of their tax base.
Minke said it would be possible to approach the legislative delegation to help communities that take a big hit to their tax base.
“As public servants, we should try to help these people as much as we can,” said Commissioner Stephen Hallan, of Pine City. “To me, it is a no brainer. We should do what we can.”
“We are willing to do whatever it takes,” said Board Chair Steve Chaffee, of Hinckley.
Commissioner Doug Carlson of Sandstone said three years would be unacceptable for help for local flood victims.
Pat Lynch, a DNR flood plain hydrologist, said the agencies should be able to determine fairly quickly which agencies could help flood victims.
“None of these will make anyone whole,” Lynch said. “No one is getting rich.”
Some flood victims talked about living in tents, campers, and about those who just walked away from their homes. Some are making decisions on whether to continue their mortgage payments or not. Others said some homes should have never been built where they were. One said they could not refinance their property and the appraisal on their home would fall short of the loan amount on their property.
The Minnesota Recovery Task Force set a deadline of October 24 for government entities to give their intent to take part in the program. Bob Voss of the ECRDC said the county needs to submit their request by that date for intent to help.