Inaction Costs Norwich $200,000?

The Town lost approximately $200,000, seemingly due to inaction. That amount is the additional reimbursement the Town would have received in reimbursement from the State for the damage caused by the July 1 Storm Event. That is a costly error to cover, translating to a nearly 3-cent one-year increase in the municipal tax rate. Yikes!

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In 2014, following the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, the State of Vermont modified its standards for managing the State's Emergency Relief and Assistance Fund (ERAF). The program was restructured to encourage municipalities to take action "before the next disaster." 

FEMA provides 75% reimbursement to municipalities for repairs after federally-declared disasters. The State matches that funding at the rate of 7.5%. However, for communities that take specific steps to reduce flood damage the State will contribute 12.5% or 17.5% of the total cost. 

In 2015, Norwich took the steps to qualify under the ERAF program for reimbursement at 12.5%, suggests the current draft of the Town Plan at page 52.  It did not take action to qualify State reimbursement at the 17.5% level, for reasons not specified.

That extra 5% totals $200,000 when the Norwich bill for July 1 Storm Event repairs is $4,000,000.

To be fair, a number of Vermont municipalities in the Upper Valley do not at present qualify at the 17.5% rate. Here are some that do qualify, according to the State’s website: Barnard, Bradford, Fairlee, Sharon and Thetford. 

What is irksome is that the Town did not even try for the 17.5%. The draft Town Plan mentions the criteria.* But, there is no suggestion that Norwich officials considered and rejected the criteria as problematic or burdensome. This ERAF program existed since 2014, long before the 2011 Town Plan expired. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for the situation. 

I asked Selectboard Chair John Pepper if I should be miffed about the $200,000 but I did not receive a response to my email before I posted.

The newly elected Chair of the Planning Commission, Jaci Allen, speaking for herself, indicated the Planning Commission is ready to move forward the moment the Town Plan is adopted. 
Qualifying for the additional 5% reimbursement to the Town in the event of future flooding events is dependent upon adopting a Town Plan, which is now in the hands of the Select Board. The current effort by the Select Board to complete Town Plan adoption before the July deadline will enable the town to amend its zoning bylaws and include the missing river-related component. 
Once the Town Plan is adopted, the Planning Commission will seek public input and hold a hearing on a draft of new flood zone regulations they have prepared. Upon approval, these draft regulations will go through the Select Board hearing and adoption process. Once these actions are completed, the Town will have all the necessary components in place to receive ERAF-related reimbursement for any future emergency event.
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*To receive the additional 5%, the Town needs to “limit new development within state-mapped river corridors and to participate in FEMA’s Community Rating System,” says the current draft of the Town Plan under consideration by the Selectboard at page 52 . See also: Emergency Relief & Assistance Fund Eligibility Criteria – 17.5% State Share, available here.

POSTED: 05.31.2018 

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