Sunday, June 15, 1997
Rebuilding is chance for improving
'Vision' team prepares to send plan to Washington

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Local leaders say the delay in passing the federal disaster relief bill is giving them more time to complete the herculean task of creating an accurate monetary picture of what Falmouth needs.

Government and business leaders and residents are working on an inventory of damages caused by the March 1 flood. Political squabbling in Congress has meant more time for Pendleton County leaders to do the math for their $30 million vision.

"When all is said and done, we hope this becomes a line item on that bubble relief package," Falmouth councilman Jeff Carson said.

He is a member of the "vision team" - city, county and business leaders and residents working on a plan for the county's future. Pendleton already received more than $30 million in recovery funds, including nearly $3 million to buy out flood-damaged homes, but local leaders say it's not nearly enough.

Damages to infrastructure and public property such as city hall and police and fire departments totaled $1.46 million.

Property losses to homes and businesses totaled $29 million in Falmouth and $7 million in Butler.

The vision team has been meeting weekly for more than two months to determine what it will cost to make Pendleton County a viable place to live.

The team will send a preliminary plan, including cost figures, to Washington early this week. Sen. Wendell Ford and Rep. Jim Bunning have been pushing local leaders for a look at hard numbers.

"We've written piles and piles of damage survey reports," Falmouth city clerk Terry England said.

The county, Butler and Falmouth each received 75 percent of their total infrastructure damage costs to make repairs. That means the state and the local entity must supply the rest of the money - something Pendleton County's coffers can't support. Nearly every penny made on tax collections is already allocated to some sort of service.

Fishing for funding

The March 1 flood, which swept homes off foundations like a tornado and killed five people, made the county's fiscal situation even worse.

"We don't have the money for a lot of these projects, but we're working on getting grants," Judge-executive Donald Mays said. The Northern Kentucky Area Development District is working with the vision team to apply for Community Development Block Grants, housing grants and any other monies they can think of.

Phil Turner, Farmers National Bank president and liaison for the city of Butler, said he hopes the county can use its share of the $250 million allocated to Kentucky by Congress to fill out its 13 percent share of the buyout and other projects.

"I'm sure every community here in this situation is saying they want to help their community, but we don't have the local match," Mr. Turner said.

Help in the search for funds is also coming from the state's Disaster Emergency Service, said Mike Lynch, mitigation officer. He said the state is looking at ways to drop local match requirements and other restrictions on the block grants and other monies.

Vernon Bradford, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said every dollar sent to Pendleton County is monitored to make sure it is used properly.

"There's always a chance that someone could do a fraudulent act, but we do check on them," Mr. Bradford said.

For instance, if a resident has received money for temporary housing, a FEMA representative makes sure the resident is paying rent to a landlord and not living for free with a relative.

Down to survival

Meanwhile local leaders hope to find a way to get Congress to fund everything from new sewer and water plants to the extension of water lines into less-developed parts of the county.

The vision team's plan is part necessity and part wish list. "This is what we need for survival, but not only will we survive but as an integrated package for the entire county we can benefit in the short and long term," Mr. Carson said. "This will allow Butler to expand its city limits."

The same is true for Falmouth. And making the cities larger is another way to increase the tax base, replacing lost revenues. Projects in the vision plan are costly.

A new wastewater treatment plant for Falmouth could cost $4 million to $6 million. A new water purification plant in Butler will cost $7.5 million.

Leaders know talk of sewer and water lines is not sexy, but they hope residents understand their importance as the backbone of increasing quality of life in Pendleton County.

The vision team wants resident input. Members said the interaction between leaders and community might put the county's move to the future in motion.

"The flood blew the wind out of our sails," Mr. Carson said. "These things functioned before the flood but it's done so much destruction and so forth there is the need for money to renovate what exists."