BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH - With more than half their town already relocated to the landfill, residents say a buyout is the only option for recovering from the Flood of '97.
''We want the buyout because it doesn't matter now,'' said Ann Howard, 59. The home she owned on Woodson Street is now a plot of mud. ''That's our only choice. We don't have anything left.''
The Falmouth City Council agreed Tuesday, voting 5-1 to apply for federal money to buy homes damaged or destroyed in the flood. Owners would be paid a fair market value and could use the money to rebuild somewhere else.
Residents said the decision was an easy one to make, but a tough one to swallow. Saying yes to the buyout means turning their backs on Falmouth, acknowledging they can't make the city what it once was.
''There's no way I want to rebuild in that area,'' said Mike Fields, 33. He lost two rental properties on Rigg Street. ''We lost it all, and it's not worth it to rebuild.''
A yes vote for the buyout carries a lot of sacrifice. For some it means leaving an ancestral home behind. Flood waters can wash away the structure and collectibles, but they can't take the sentimental value and emotional baggage.
Florence McMillian, 84, lived in Mrs. Howard's house on Woodson Street. She said she isn't looking forward to starting over.
''I lost all of my things and stuff from my ancestors,'' she said. ''But I want to go somewhere now where I have peace of mind.''
She and Mrs. Howard, who is her daughter, and granddaughter Cindy Howard, 27, are looking for a house in Cincinnati.
Mr. Fields and his family have maintained rental property in Falmouth for generations. One of the homes he lost was his grandmother's. His grandfather's house on Woodson Street was washed away.
''The only thing to do is revamp and move to another place,'' Mr. Fields said.
That can't happen soon enough for some.
''I think we're being too passive up and down the line,'' said Ron Moreland, former co-owner of Moreland Drug Store. ''The window is getting smaller and smaller.''
City officials have until April 30 to apply for funds to buy out residential property. Under the federal relocation program, the federal government will pay 75 percent, the state 13 percent and the city 12 percent.
To meet that deadline, the city is asking all residents wanting to sell to fill out applications by April 17. Forms will be available at the temporary city hall at the Moreland Drug Store.
Mr. Moreland urged the city to hire someone to work full time on the grant applications. He said he is willing to front $10,000 for the job.
A ballot taken during the past two weeks indicated 139 property owners supported the buyout, representing 168 pieces of property. Only 62 people opposed the move. Negative votes represented 68 real estate parcels.
The city must include pictures and the value of every property included in the buyout option. Councilman Anthony Strong said Federal Emergency Management Agency officials told the city checks could be cut by late summer.
Expected to contribute 12 percent to a buyout plan, Falmouth is finding itself in a tight spot. The city doesn't have the money, Mayor Max Goldberg said.
''Unless we can get a grant, we can't have a buyout,'' Mr. Goldberg said. ''The city was hurt, too.''
To try to cover the 12 percent - officials won't know the total until they know how many residents will take the buyout - the city will apply for a Community Development Block Grant.
But even those funds are not guaranteed.
People like Joseph and Doloris Taravella, whose Pendleton Street home is a loss, don't know what to do.
''I ain't got a home. I got mud,'' Mr. Taravella said. ''I want to get the heck out of here.''
Not knowing if the city will be funded for a buyout worries Mrs. Taravella. She has 60 days to apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration but won't need the money if the city buys her home.
''What do I do?''
While most on council didn't know the answer, Councilman Floyd Vanlandingham said he did.
The only member to vote against the buyout - he said residents should have taken advantage of flood insurance - he said he knew the emotions residents were wrestling.
''People had a very dire experience,'' he said. ''They lost all they had. Now they're looking for a miracle.''