Illinois Awards Communities $11.6M In Aid Following November Storms
By Denise Molina and Sean Powers
On Monday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced $11.6 million in state relief to communities hit by the Nov. 2013 tornadoes.
The city of Washington is getting about $7.7 million of the pot. The community already received $6.5 million of the funding for city streets, sidewalks, and curbs and gutters.
The money is part of an overall $45 million relief package to help communities recoup some of the costs associated with storm cleanup.
This year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied public assistance that would have helped local governments that have damaged property or infrastructure and are saddled with the cost of paying first responders overtime. Members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation want FEMA to change its funding formula, so that communities in the future aren’t left out.
FEMA did approve individual assistance, which is different from the public assistance.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier said the city will likely apply for more state help for potential water issues.
“We don’t know how much damage we’re going to have until we turn some of our systems back on to see if we’re going to have to tap into that,” Manier said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions. It’s not a six to eight month process. It’s a year to two year process.”
Gov. Quinn says the state is not done helping the storm damaged communities.
“There’s more opportunities from other departments, but we wanted to allocate this amount pronto,” Quinn said in Washington.
More than 1,100 homes were affected in Washington by the November tornadoes, and there are more than 700 permits that have been issued for reconstruction.
Additionally, more than $115,000 is also going to Pekin in Tazewell County, and East Peoria is receiving about $268,000. The village of Gifford in Champaign County is getting more than $379,000, Brookport will receive $1.8 million, Massac County is to get more than $31,ooo, about $442,000 is going to Diamond, Coal City is getting more than $268,000 and Compromise Township in Champaign County is receiving $185,000.
The governor also signed three measures into law related to disaster recovery. The first goes into effect immediately and creates the Illinois Gives program that allows current and retired state employees to donate a portion of their paycheck to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.
The second piece of legislation sets a limit of 10 percent on the amount of compensation an insurance adjuster may receive when representing a consumer in a claim resulting from a disaster. This goes into effect in January.
The last legislation seeks to make it easier for business owners to get back on their feet following a natural disaster. It slowly phases in property taxes over a 15-year period to prevent an immediate tax hike on the repaired or rebuilt business property.
That is good news for Eric Rademacher, who runs a lumber business in downtown Gifford. Eight months after the storm, he said it will take another year before his company is operating at 100 percent. Rademacher said the chief county assessment officer told him it would be more affordable to repair instead of re-build parts of his property.
“Some of these buildings are 40, 50 years old, and so you’re assessed on an old building where it would have been brought up to a brand new building,” he explained. “So, that could be two, three, four times what it was before.”
But those tax increases will be smaller under the bill signed Monday. Its sponsor, State Sen. Mike Freirchs (D-Champaign), who grew up in Gifford, said he wanted to protected businesses that couldn’t afford a “doubling or quadrupling of their tax bill.”
“Some (business owners) may decide it’s not worth it to re-build,” Freirchs said. “It’s hard when you’re town is hit by a tornado and you have to rebuild. It’s even harder when people decide we’re just going to pack up and move.”
The law is effective immediately. It mirrors a similar bill protecting homeowners from higher taxes that was signed following deadly storms in the state two years ago. In 2012, eight people were killed by a tornado in the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg.
“We’ve had a number of natural disaster in Illinois over the last five years,” Gov. Quinn said during a press conference in Gifford after he visited Washington. “We have to be ready for everything, and we learn as we go along. We did learn in Harrisburg having the law to help residential property tax payers avoid massive increases in their property taxes as they re-build. Here today we’ve learned how important it is to help our small businesses.”