Some Lawmakers Have Requests For Districts Hard Hit By Irene

11/10/11 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Dillon) Lawmakers who gathered in Montpelier learned new details about both the personal and the financial toll from Tropical Storm Irene.

And, as VPR's John Dillon reports, some came with particular requests to help their hard-hit districts.

(Dillon) Neale Lunderville is the Shumlin administration's chief Irene recovery officer. He gave a by-the-numbers overview of the storm damage. He started with the impact on housing:

(Lunderville) "We believe there are about 14-hundred residences that have faced significant damage. ... It's an estimate and we will see this number evolve over time."

(Dillon) Lunderville said there are ongoing issues with housing, with people living in temporary or inadequate situations.

(Lunderville) "These are somebody living in an RV. It's not going to work when it's 20 below zero. Somebody who's living in a neighbor's house. The generosity of that neighbor can't be overstated. But after three or four months it's going to start to get pretty rough. These are folks who are precariously housed, as we call them."

(Dillon) The hardest hit counties were Washington, Windsor, Windham and Rutland.

The town of Wilmington in the Deerfield Valley estimates at least 28 apartments or homes were lost. The damage to the Wilmington business district - and the town's tax base - was also particularly severe. The storm also left Wilmington with huge bills to fix the municipal building and fire station.

Anne Manwaring is a Democrat who represents Wilmington and Halifax. She says that under the state's school funding law, Wilmington has to send money to the state Education Fund. The town's $2 million payment is due December 1st.

(Manwaring) "And we've got less than $2 (million) in the till. And no more tax revenues until the end of February."

(Dillon) So Manwaring wants some flexibility from the state. She's seeking legislation that would delay when towns have to pay the money. The bill would also waive any interest penalties the towns may owe. Manwaring says many towns like Wilmington face a cash crunch as they pay for Irene repairs but then have to wait for months for the federal government to reimburse them.

(Manwaring) "This is a cash flow issue. This is not something where we're trying to make any changes, just to accommodate the cash situation of some 25 to 50 municipalities in the state have probably got some serious impact in that sense."

(Dillon) Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said local banks have helped towns meet their cash flow needs with very low interest loans. He said the Shumlin administration is not ready to endorse the proposal to delay school tax payments.

(Spaulding) "As I understand it, it would require legislative action. So I'm not sure whether it's practical and haven't thought through the potential policy implications of going down that road. So it is something that's under consideration. Whether it's necessary with the banks stepping up to the plate, I think, is not clear right now."

(Dillon) Spaulding agreed that a big issue facing the towns is how quickly federal payments will come through. But he cautioned against taking action to help towns that could have other policy and fiscal impacts in the future.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier


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