Schumer Urges Feds to Unlock Over $4 Million in Promised Disaster Aid

By Suzanne Proulx

Schumer Urges Feds to Unlock Over $4 Million in Promised Disaster Aid

September 28, 2012 Updated Sep 28, 2012 at 11:31 AM EST

(WBNG Binghamton)  Senator Charles Schumer is urging feds to give over $4 million in promised aid to Tioga County.

According to Senator Charles Schumer's Office:

Friday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to swiftly approve over $4 million in disaster funding for Tioga County. Over a year ago, Tioga County was severely damaged along with the rest of the Southern Tier by unprecedented flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Residents have worked tirelessly to get their communities back in order, and have spent countless hours to restore the infrastructure, municipal buildings, and homes damaged in the flood. Still, Tioga County officials have been unable to receive the promised funding to restore crucial County court house documents damaged last September. In June, FEMA promised it would help restore the documents the County needs at a cost of over $4 million. County officials sent the documents to preservationists, and paid $380,000 upfront. Tioga officials have not received support from FEMA since their verbal commitment in June.

 “I am calling on FEMA to promptly repair the massive dent left in Tioga County’s wallet after Tropical Storm Lee destroyed County documents and forced expensive relocation,” said Schumer. “FEMA’s slow response to projects like this must be rectified and Tioga County must be made whole as soon as possible. A previous FEMA team validated the damage assessment; now the agency must step up to the plate and finalize the obligation of these funds.”

 Schumer noted in a personal letter to the top FEMA official that Tioga’s over $4 million expenditure to relocate the documents will be deducted from the County’s budget in mid-October, and could cripple the local economy. Prior to this massive bill, the County was already forced to slash costs and lay off 20 employees. The cost of document replacement, coupled with previous constraints, could put a serious strain on the County’s public finances. Tioga County has worked hard to keep the cost of document replacement and restoration down, and even outsourced the damaged documents to be sorted, freeze dried, and preserved at an out of pocket cost of $380,000. They also have committed two employees to a full-time sorting process in order to discern documents which need not be replaced. Schumer highlighted that Tioga County has taken the necessary steps to accomplish document replacement and return their operations to the status quo, and urged that FEMA step up to the plate and provide its promised contribution.

 Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on Tioga County and its public facilities in September 2011, causing severe damage to public infrastructure and creating over 300 public assistance projects costing a total of over $30 million. The municipal building in Owego that was damaged during Tropical Storm Lee has to replace hundreds of vital documents, such as deeds and contracts for local businesses. Schumer noted that Tioga County has done everything in its power to ensure the swift replacement of any damaged documents, but the County will not be able to remain solvent if it is expected to pay the entire $4 million in replacement costs.

 Schumer’s letter to FEMA Administrator William Fugate is below: 

 Dear Administrator Fugate:

 I write to express my support for Tioga County’s request for funding to replace important documents lost in the flooding events following Tropical Storm Lee in September of 2011.  Over $4 million dollars were promised to the County to replace these very important documents by FEMA in June, however has not received follow up assistance since that time.

 The $4 million expenditure, which will have to be deducted from the County’s budget in mid-October, will be crippling if the County has to bear the brunt of it.  Before the cost of document replacement, the County already has to cut costs and lay off twenty employees. When the cost of document replacement is factored in, the cuts will be devastating.  It is hard for some to fathom the magnitude of over $4 million within a small community like Tioga County.  However, for those creating the 2013 budget, it is all too palpable.

 The County has been vigilant in making sure this process has been occurring efficiently and cost effectively.  At the outset, Tioga County outsourced the damaged documents to be sorted, freeze dried, and preserved at an out of pocket cost of $380,000. They also have committed two employees to a full time sorting process in order to discern documents which need not be replaced.  Tioga has taken the necessary steps to accomplish document replacement and return their operations to the status quo, and at this time I respectfully urge that FEMA take not of the County’s diligence and reimburse them for these expenses.

As stated this is not a request for anything above and beyond what FEMA has already promised Tioga County.  All that is asked is that FEMA expedite the process so that Tioga County may return their operations to full strength and, most importantly, save the jobs of hard working employees. I urge you to approve this request.”

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