State delays disaster aid for year

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AUGUSTA – Maine cities and towns in 11 counties will have to wait until next year to get money owed them by the state for its share of repairs and clean up from the floods of April 2005. Lawmakers did approve $880,000 for the overdue bills, but that is short of the $1.3 million owed.

“What kind of message does that send to the people of York County who are going to be looking for relief from the flood?” Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, asked at a late night meeting of the Appropriations Committee last week. “Here we are not being able to find the money for a flood from a year ago.”

Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, reminded Curley the money is not for individual aid, but for payments to municipalities.

“It’s not like we haven’t, in this Legislature, sent them a lot,” he said. “It’s not like they won’t get it; they just won’t get it all at once.”

From March 29 to May 3, 2005, most of the state was hit with severe storms, flooding and ice jams. President Bush issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties on June 29, 2005. That allowed for federal aid to pay for 75 percent of the clean up and repairs, with towns matching 10 percent of the cost. The state has yet to pay the 15 percent share required under federal law.

The feds send their share to cities and towns, so with the presidential declaration of a disaster in York County last Friday, federal funds will start to flow.

While 15 percent may not sound like a lot, Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, said it means local towns are in effect loaning money to the state until the state provides its share. According to Maine Emergency Management Agency records, towns are owed from a few thousand dollars to $44,446.19 owed Fayette in Kennebec County.

The result of the partial funding, Gov. John Baldacci acknowledged Friday, is that towns will not get all they are owed until the Legislature acts next January. But he committed to funding the remainder.

“They will get what they are owed,” he said.

Lawmakers passed a resolve directing the governor to present legislation by Jan. 1, 2007, to pay what is owed from the April 2005 storms, the state share of the costs of clean up and repairs from this month’s flooding in York County and $500,000 for relocation of the water and sewer infrastructure of downtown Canton to higher ground.

In December of 2003, Canton was flooded from ice jams on the Androscoggin River. Federal grants of $4 million are being used to help relocate many of the buildings in the flood plane to higher ground, and Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, sought the state funds to help pay for part of a project expected to total $10 million.

“I had hoped to get this in a bond issue,” he said, ” but when it was clear there would be no bond issue this year, I wanted to get this in.”

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