The recently adopted $26 billion state budget contains $72 million specifically earmarked to provide flood relief in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fred.
This is in addition to general budget funds within specific state departments that also will be available.
N.C. Rep. Mark Pless, (R-Bethel) shepherded the requests specific to Haywood through the legislative process. While the disaster funding is to cover damages in 11 counties, some line items will only be used in Haywood, where the bulk of the damages occurred.
The budget sets aside $20 million for home reconstruction, $3 million for home repairs, $4 million for short-term housing assistance and $2 million for landlords to repair rental units — funds Pless said will likely all come to Haywood since he hasn’t heard of widespread residential damage in the other counties.
“I am thrilled,” Pless said when discussing the budget’s flood relief measures. “They said they would listen to us, and they did. I think it will go a long way, and help a lot of people.”
A total of 540 homes were either damaged, failed or destroyed according to a detailed flood damage assessment submitted to FEMA.
The N.C. Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management will oversee dispersal of the earmarked flood funding. The home reconstruction funds are to be used for homes not eligible for federal assistance through the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which applies to homes in the flood plain.
During an October meeting, state emergency management officials said it could be 18 months after the date of the disaster to get federal approval to either rebuild or elevate an existing home on flood-prone properties. A third option for property owners would be to accept a buyout.
The state funding will be used for properties outside the flood plain — areas not known to be susceptible to flooding.
Haywood County Manager Bryant Morehead said these homes have been identified and work can begin as soon as state funds are passed along.
“We’ll have to have some discussions with state office on how these funds can be used,” Morehead said. “All of this is fairly new. With this funding, we can do some really good work.”
The county actually requested two pools of money to address housing needs for flood survivors, $20 million to rebuild or elevate homes on the same property where they were flooded, and another $20 million for off-site housing where flooded homeowners or renters could relocate on higher ground. Only the funds to cover the onsite reconstruction were approved, Pless said.
“The county will make a request for what they want to do and Emergency Management will sign off,” Pless said. “If the money can’t be used the way it’s stated in the bill, we can get a wording change to provide more flexibility.”
In addition to the $72 million, another section of the budget sets aside $9.2 million to cover flood-related water and wastewater system damages in Canton, and $1.2 million for the same purpose in Clyde.
Town Administrator Joy Garland said Clyde will spend $500,000 on its portion of the Canton water improvements (Clyde purchases water from Canton and contracts with Junaluska Sanitary District for wastewater disposal) and the remainder to further address line repair needs in town.
Not included in state funding was any help for rebuilding or relocating municipal services such as Canton Town Hall or the town’s fire department.
Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers has spoken of perhaps elevating the town’s municipal building to avoid having a fourth flood on the property. If funds were to become available for this, it will have to be in the short session or a later budget, Pless said.
“I’ve been working with Zeb,” Pless said, “and there’s been conversations on the senior center and armory, building content damages and needs for the water and sewer. We don’t know the exact numbers yet. The money to elevate town hall isn’t in the budget in theory, but maybe we will be able to send them into areas we have already funded.”
Pless emphasized the budget is not the end of state help.
“There will be needs uncovered as rebuilding begins that couldn’t have been predicted,” he said. “Some residents are rejoicing this morning that money is now here, but I would like them to understand we have some details to workout so repairs flow smoothly. The Governor signed the budget yesterday evening and this morning I spoke to County Manager Bryant Morehead about how we can get the processes to access the funds. Over the next couple of weeks we will iron out the details and tell folks what the next steps are.”
Pless had high praise for the N.C. Department of Transportation, local government workers and local elected officials who have worked tirelessly to get the funding needed to recover.
“We are a long way from recovered but if we all continue to work together as a county will be better after this disaster than we were before,” he said.