Legislator John Brezinski would like for Herkimer County to assist homeowners and landlords who have been denied flood assistance from the state.
“I would like this legislative body to explore options that our county can legally do to help the flood victims of Herkimer County. Because of the additional hardships that these people are facing, who don’t have the extra money for, I would like us to match the $4 million that Gov. Cuomo dedicated to the county or come up with at least $2 million that we previously gave to Remington Arms to keep them here in this area,” Brezinski, D - Frankfort, said during Wednesday evening’s meeting of the Legislature.
Brezinski added while the county would have to determine if it could legally match the state money it received and the reserve the funding could be drawn from, he believes Herkimer County should “step up to the plate and support our own people who work and live here, pay their taxes and support their community.” “The devastation hurt many families and if the money they received from the state is not enough to help them get back on their feet then we should try to take up some of the slack,” he said.
In July, the state designated $4 million in flood assistance to Herkimer County in the form of grants for residents, business owners and farmers. Through the governor’s program homeowners could be eligible for up to $31,900 in assistance, and small business owners and farmers or farm operations could be eligible for up to $50,000.
“One concern of mine is the lack of assistance to landlords. They were denied any help and were denied flood assistance from the state because they didn’t reside at the same residence as their renters,” said Brezinski. “They feel ignored and angered because they pay taxes as a small business would and yet are not considered a small business.”
Peter Cutler, deputy commissioner of public affairs for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said landlords are eligible for assistance under specific conditions. “Those conditions include the landlord residing in the primary residence where other units are rented out,” he said, adding the same guidelines were used as those stipulated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Caitlin Ostomel, FEMA external affairs officer, confirmed if federal assistance had been designated, landlords who didn’t live on the property likely wouldn’t have been eligible.
Cutler said there was a distinction made between a landlord with real property and a business function on a main street of a community.
He added state assistance to small businesses would cover loss of inventory, exterior or interior repairs and replacement of permanent fixtures and equipment.
Page 2 of 3 - FEMA officials said federal assistance isn’t provided to businesses.
Cutler also said a declaration was made recently by the U.S. Small Business Association that offers low-interest loans to businesses, homeowners and landlords looking to replace damaged or destroyed real estate. The designation covers Herkimer County, he said.
“We should dedicate some funds to help these taxpayers that have lost so much and help restore their faith in our government. They chose to stay in this area, raise their families here, contribute to the county budget through their taxes and purchases throughout the year, and deserve some compensation when, through no fault of their own, have lost a good part of their homes and equity, said Brezinski.
“We could refer to the project as a ‘Revolving Tax Payback’ like ‘what goes around, comes around.’ The money, if we could help them, will come back to us through tax money when they purchase materials that would be used to rebuild, supporting local businesses, plus just staying in this area paying school and house taxes. If individuals decide they would leave rather than rebuild there would be nothing come in.”
Legislators Gary Hartman, D - Herkimer, and Helen Rose, D - Herkimer, said they would be in favor of the county exploring Brezkinski’s proposal.
“If it was something the county could legally do, then I would likely support it,” said Hartman. “The question would be where the county could pull the money from. Personally, I would look to the quarter-percent sales tax the county withholds for the construction of a new jail or the one-percent sales tax it withholds for Medicaid. It would be a way to give the money back to the municipalities and taxpayers who need it.”
“The jail, in my opinion, cost too much before the flood and it definitely costs too much after the flood. If it were an option, and if it were something the county could legally do, I would consider using the sales tax the county withholds for the construction of a new jail to provide assistance to flood victims who need it. It’s something worth exploring.”
One state lawmaker has joined the county legislators in speaking out about the flood recovery program’s perceived glitches and inequities.
Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R - New Hartford, said she is aware of the landlords’ concerns and has spoken with other officials about them. “It’s not such a bright, clear line who is going to get reimbursed and who’s not,” she said. “I’m working on trying to find another funding stream so we can divert some of that money to people who need it.”
Page 3 of 3 - In other business Wednesday evening, the Legislature unanimously appointed Christina Cain, of Dolgeville, as director of public health. Cain had been serving as acting director of public health since former director Dr. Gregory O’Keefe resigned in November 2012.
State law requires the county public health director be a resident of the county, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation earlier this month requesting home rule that allowed Herkimer County to fill the position with a candidate from an adjoining county.
Cain, a resident of Fulton County, thanked the Legislature for the opportunity and said she is “excited to move forward in the new direction the department has started.
She also said she has been busy reviewing the department’s policies and procedures to “eliminate redundancies and streamline” and working with Sheriff Christopher Farber to combine medical waste pickups to eliminate a bill and reduce costs.