County still laboring under burden of flood repairsWhile it may seem like a broken record, the crisis of last June’s flooding in Carlton County and surrounding areas continues to play itself out.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
While it may seem like a broken record, the crisis of last June’s flooding in Carlton County and surrounding areas continues to play itself out. That was the message brought to the Carlton County Board on Monday by Drew Digby, long term recovery manager. Digby indicated that while it may appear to many that the region is back to normal, the county will be dealing with flood-related issues for years to come. Only an estimated 40 percent of the flood survivors have completed their physical recovery.
“We have been successfully meeting the emergency needs,” said Digby, “but many residents are still in the midst of rebuilding, which can oftentimes be more complicated.”
Digby told commissioners that one of the big needs in the county right now is housing assistance, but some residents have found the program laid out by Minnesota Housing’s Quick Start program to be overly restrictive. He estimated that Carlton County flood victims have submitted 88 applications to the program thus far, and disaster case managers are working with some 20 additional cases to try to get their applications filed by this Friday’s deadline. The case managers are also working with some 40 other residents who have thus far failed to meet the restrictive covenants of the program in order to assist them in submitting late applications to the federal loan program. He explained that if successful at the federal level, they would then become eligible for the state program.
“So far, the disaster case managers have been successful in getting 15 residents eligible for both loan programs despite missing one of the deadlines,” said Digby. “Across the region, there are slightly more than 50 such requests pending.”
Digby went on to point out that all of these issues have placed a huge burden on the county’s four disaster case managers, with two of them currently handling case loads of 60 or more, when the ideal ratio is generally 30-40 per manager, and he would like to see the addition of at least two more.
“The disaster case managers have had to provide flood survivors with more paperwork help than is typical in a disaster because the administrator for Minnesota Housing (Lakes and Pines Community Action Council) refused to set up an office or hold office hours in places where the flood survivors live,” Digby told commissioners. “I feel we could provide more support for individuals and families with more case managers.”
Though the state will not reimburse Carlton County for supporting disaster care case managers, Digby said he has requested that the state increase the amount of direct support to Lutheran Social Services through a contract with Minnesota Housing in order to help cover the cost of additional case managers.
Carlton County currently has over 200 active cases, with many more potential ones as well that commissioners believe may surface with the advent of the spring thaw and the related water issues that could impact already compromised residences.
Finally, Digby discussed the fundraising efforts on behalf of flood victims and county-wide cleanup efforts. He said the regional flood fund, managed by United Way of Greater Duluth and Carlton County, has raised some $610,000 thus far, but as of last Monday, there is only approximately $188,000 of that amount remaining, with additional disbursements likely to take that number down to $100,000 by the end of the month. He added that an additional $500,000-$600,000 will likely be needed to cover the next six months.
In order to help reinforce the flood fund, Digby said a new round of fundraising is about to kick off, and he hopes to organize breakfast events with business leaders in Carlton and Moose Lake in the near future.
In other business to come before the board, Zoning and Environmental Services Administrator Heather Cunningham informed commissioners that the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District has reviewed its coupon program offering every household in the district free disposal of one appliance and has decided to discontinue it. Carlton County has had a similar program since in 2008, and Cunningham recommended that the county discontinue its coupon program as well because WLSSD has indicated it will no longer reimburse the county for its related expenses. The board concurred. The current coupon will remain in effect until March 31.
Commissioner Tom Proulx was appointed to the new Carlton County Diversity Committee. Prior to this time, the committee has only been part of Health and Human Services, but all concerned felt it should become a county-wide effort.
Pat Oman, Carlton County economic development director, reviewed the county’s Lead Hazard Control Grant and explained it has seen some modifications. Oman said when the three-year grant was first received in 2011, the guidelines for awardees included income guidelines, association with the Small Cities Development Grant program and the number of children in the home under the age of 6. Though the income guidelines remain in place, Oman said the county has been allowed to back away from the requirement a home first be associated with the Small Cities program. And though houses with children will still be given priority, they will not be required in order to receive a grant award. He explained that the grant is intended for the remediation of lead paint in owner-occupied homes built prior to 1978, with individual reimbursements up to $6,300 per home. He indicated that the county still has enough grant money remaining for five to six awards yet this year.