Pine County Administrator Dave Minke introduced the panel and guests attending the flood recovery meeting at the Rutledge Community Center January 17. Among the non-panel members were Pine County Commissioner Curt Rossow of Willow River, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole representing Pine County Emergency Management and Minnesota House Rep. Tim Faust.
Tom Paull, the new Pine County flood recovery coordinator, spoke first talking about his involvement with the June 2012 flash flood in Moose Lake, where he was on the flood management team. Paull is currently the vice chairman for the regional long-term recovery committee. His office is located in the Moose Lake library building.
Paull said he will need to meet with each individual homeowner and will be attending all the city council meetings to again address the buyout program. He would like to see Pine County residents get started in the buyout process. Residents of Moose Lake are further along in the buyouts.
Kelly Schroeder, the Pine County assessor, has been establishing real estate tax bases for 2014 since January 3. She is re-evaluating damaged homes to see where repairs of structures are currently. Schroeder said this would not be a short process.
The Small Business Association (SBA) obligations had closed as of October 17, but they are still asking for applications as there are ways to accept them late in the system. Homeowners are asked to fill out applications with complete honesty when applying for SBA assistance in order to be possibly rejected and able to qualify for Quickstart, according to Dana Rauschnot, from Lakes and Pines Community Action Council, the project manager for homeless dollars and Quickstart.
If eligible for Quickstart, Rauschnot said, owners would then be able to receive up to $40,000 for repairs that would be forgiven if the homeowners stay in their homes the next 10 years. The Quickstart program deadline was extended to January 31. This is the third and last extension by the state. Rauschnot stressed again the need to apply for Quickstart with the looming deadline, despite current qualifications. She said there has been a low response from Pine County.
All funds offered are available to homeowners who stay current on their real estate taxes, mortgages and insurance. For some, this is difficult when living away from the damaged home.
Administration of aid
Lutheran Social Services (LSS) continues to be the administrators of flood relief, helping homeowners work through the processes of applying for the available funds, said Dean Minardi, reconstruction manager for the seven-county area from LSS. Minardi said LSS helps identify home damages and the possible pools of money that can be accessed to pay for the damages. Their regional and state case managers help flood victims through the whole process. Together, the homeowner and LSS look at whether or not the home can be fixed and, if so, attempt to get the home back to pre-flood conditions. Tim Holmstead of LSS, disaster case manager hired for residential properties, can be contacted at (218) 485-1409 and is located at 316 Elm Avenue in Moose Lake.
Homeowners who do not have working furnaces should contact LSS. “We want to make sure people are safe,” said Holmstead. Ovens are not adequate, and small heaters corrode and start fires. To help make the recovery process easier, LSS asks homeowners to register online at http://floodhomeswithhope.org/ or call (218) 499-9480.
There will be no general funding available to help with non-homestead properties such as cabins. However, those properties do qualify for the buyout. Owners of rental properties and homesteaded residential properties qualify for all available funding and programs. Renters qualify as long-term residents. Landlords could qualify for repairs. Fifty percent of the properties affected by the flash flood were homesteaded.
A question was raised about wells and septics. Insurance does not generally cover them as they are underground. Some homes still have no water. Minardi said they have helped with some wells.
The panel stated, “If you even have a 1 percent chance of wanting the buyout available, you should sign up for it.” The panel encouraged everyone to at least fill out all applications to be in the system before the deadlines.
There are two types of buyouts. FEMA is the first program that Jen Nelson of Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM), the state hazard mitigation officer representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant program, works with. The second buyout is by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Buyouts do not apply to historical properties.
Nelson emphasized applying for a buyout is voluntary. First, there needs to be a declaration of 50 percent or more damage. The county will work with the state and federal governments in the buyouts. Paull will be looking to connect with homesteaded property owners who apply first, followed by non-homestead property owners.
Nelson said they are hoping for no more then a 90-day time line for individuals from start to finish. Once grants are signed, property titles turned over and the money paid, the homeowner has two weeks to move, and the property would be demolished in 90 days. Homeowners are asked not to start demolition of their own property. The land will then be returned to a natural state.
Homeowners cannot get back any improvements invested with their own money but may possibly take improvements with them as long as the improvements are not resold. Homeowners must also prove any funding received was put into the home in order to retrieve it back on the buyout. Assessment of the property, Nelson stated, can be done by an independent, certified appraiser if a homeowner does not agree with the amount offered. The buyout programs do not cover personal losses.
Nelson explained a homeowner does have the option to refuse the buyout at any point in the process until the check is cashed.
FEMA requires participation in a FEMA-funded buyout project to be strictly voluntary and requires the city to notify all potential participants that neither the state of Minnesota nor the municipality will use its eminent domain authority to acquire the property for open purposes should negotiations fail, according to the front page of the buyout form.