Thursday, April 29, 1999

Tornado-stricken communities turn to state for help

Feds denied declaration of disaster

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Officials in the northeastern Hamilton County communities struck by the April 9 tornado expressed disappointment Wednesday that federal relief to cover storm-related losses was denied. But they held out hope the state might lend a hand.

        Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency, said there will be efforts “to access funding from the state of Ohio” to recoup local government losses related to the tornado. That will involve approval of the Legislature, he said.

        Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, said he has told local government officials “to keep all of their bills and overtime costs and they are doing that. We will take a look at that information when they get it to us.”

        The state has aided communities affected by natural disasters in the past. “There is precedence. We have picked up (some) local government costs before,” Mr. Finan said.

        The comments followed a Monday announcement from James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that tornado damage wasn't severe enough to merit federal assis tance beyond low-interest loans offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

        The SBA will open two offices in the area today to take loan applications to help cover uninsured losses, and field related questions, officials said.

        In a letter to Gov. Bob Taft, Mr. Witt noted about 95 percent of the deadly storm's victims have private insurance. Most also are considered too wealthy to qualify for federal grants.

        Mr. Taft and U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, lobbied for the federal declaration in part to win reimbursement for the estimated $3.4 million that state and local governments spent cleaning up debris and posting additional police.

        Had the area been declared a federal disaster area, tornado victims could have qualified for housing and unemployment grants, along with federally funded crisis counseling and other aid.

        Symmes Township Trustee President Eric Minamyer said he is not only disappointed that federal aid will not be coming to the township, but property owners with uninsured or underinsured losses will not be able to apply for federal grants of up to $13,650.

        Symmes Township resident Ronald Reynolds said he will be among those filing an SBA loan application today but noted “that (a) $13,650 (federal grant) would have given me a good start.”

        Mr. Reynolds said he has been hospitalized with pneumonia and recovering at home.

        “My (homeowner's) insurance lapsed March 26 because I was not working and unable to pay.” An oak fell onto his house, destroying his garage and the uninsured car inside it.

        Mr. Reynolds, 54, said he was sitting in his living room when the tree hit his house on Union Cemetery Road, “so, I guess I'm lucky to be alive. But, I'm still out of work so I don't know how I'll rank for a loan. I have a lot of hospital bills and extensive damage (to the house). I'd like a job.”

        Meanwhile, government officials in most of the affected communities said bills are still coming in from the storm cleanup, with local government costs still being tallied.

        • In Symmes Township, Mr. Minamyer said more than $100,000 has been spent, including $20,000 to $30,000 in overtime.

        • Montgomery City Manager Che ryl Hilvert said the city's tab has reached $300,000 and could quickly jump. The city is bringing in arborists and other experts to assess damage, cleanup and restoration costs to Johnson Nature Preserve.

        • Sycamore Township Administrator Lori Thompson estimated the community spent more than $400,000 to clean up.

        • Blue Ash City Manager Marvin Thompson said storm-related costs will total about $275,000, including overtime, equipment and debris removal.

        • In Loveland, City Manager Mark Fitzgerald estimated storm costs at $300,000.

        Communities with commercial and industrial damage will suffer a loss of earnings taxes because many of those businesses found temporary operating facilities elsewhere.

        Those tax revenues will be lost until the commercial buildings are replaced and the jobs return, officials said. Those funds cannot be recouped.

        The Small Business Administration will open two offices today to accept applications for low-interest loans to cover uninsured losses property owners experienced in the April 9 tornado:

        • 1 North Lake Place, 11500 North Lake Drive, Sycamore Township — off Kemper Road, just west of Interstate 71.

        • 1301 Mattec Drive, Loveland Commerce Park, Loveland — off Union Cemetery Road Road, east of Montgomery Road and just east of the Symmes Township offices.

        The offices will be open indefinitely. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays (May 1 and May 8 only).


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