A unanimous Monday morning vote by the members of the Fremont County Board of Supervisors at the Fremont County Courthouse in Sidney granted the owners of at least 26 residences in the unincorporated areas of the county with at least the possibility of participating in a buy-out program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Monday’s vote was necessary to satisfy a deadline of Friday, Aug. 23, to determine whether the county would ultimately participate in the FEMA program.
The vote didn’t make a buy out certain, however. The successful motion, made by Board Chairman Terry Graham indicated that the Supervisors would handle buy out claims on a case-by-case basis, making it possible that some claims of interested parties might not be ultimately approved.
Mike Crecelius of Fremont County Emergency Management was at the meeting in Sidney and advised that he had a list containing the names of 26 home owners who indicated interest in either the FEMA buy out program or the demolition program. He said more names might be added to the list after Monday’s vote and said he would advise all the property owners on the list about what the vote meant to them.
After the Missouri River flood of 2011, Crecelius said Fremont County participated in the demolition program only and did not take part in the buy out program.
There is a significant difference between the two programs. Property owners who participate in the demolition program will have their residence cleared from the flood damaged property and hauled away. The footprint of the former property would be filled back in and the owner of the land would retain said ownership and have the option of building again in the future. One negative of the demolition program is that the residence is the only building cleared. Out buildings on affected land would not be demolished and would be left for the landowner to deal with at that person’s expense.
Turning to the buy out program, the pre-flood fair market price of the property would be offered to the owner. Accepting that offer would transfer ownership of the land to the federal government, take the property off the local tax rolls and stop future development on the site. Utilities, such as water, sewer or electric, may not be established and the county is responsible for maintaining the land.
For the county, accepted buy outs would permanently remove the possibility of that land ever generating tax revenue.
In addition to suffering the loss of tax revenue, the county could conceivably incur a buy-in cost associated with the FEMA buy out program. In looking at the buy out offer, it should be noted that 75 percent of the cost would be carried by the federal government, while 15 percent could be the responsibility of the county and 10 percent would be the responsibility of the state.
Crecelius said the county portion of the cost could be paid for with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (FEMA), flood relief funds from the state of Iowa, or could be paid by individual property owners. In the case that none of those three arrangements are possible, the cost would fall back to the county.
Board member Dustin Sheldon voiced concern at the Monday meeting that the impact on the county could result in potential layoffs at the Fremont County Courthouse and delays for residents seeking county services.
The county plans to gather more information about what impact tax loss and program cost from the FEMA buy out would have on the county’s budget versus numbers related to the option of not participating in buy outs.