Local officials in one oft-flooded North Jersey town are counting on big savings through the federally supported buyouts of high-risk properties, but at least one mayor said the township could be left footing a heavy bill that won’t relieve future storm recovery costs.
“It’s important that residents who agree to a voluntary home buyout make, dollar for dollar, what their home was worth before flood damage,” said Pompton Lakes Mayor Katie Cole. “The homeowners are going to get back 75 cents on the dollar from FEMA, but the rest still has to be made up, and that will come from the county or our township.”
Pompton Lakes is one of seven municipalities set to receive a portion of $21.6 million in funding to buy out and elevate flood-ravaged homes under a second phase of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation program. According to Cole, the township has received federal funding for 35 buyouts and 26 elevations from FEMA’s Severe Repetitive Loss program and two federally declared disasters — a severe winter storm in 2011 and Hurricane Irene.
According to Cole, the township hired outside firms and appraisers to meet with residents whose homes qualified for buyouts in order to do title searches, make sure their flood insurance is up to date, and explain the paperwork and the buyout process — usually the most difficult step for municipalities.
“Each resident has different things going on,” Cole said. “One could be behind on their mortgage, and another one could be waiting until after high school graduation in June. Many of them are still living in the homes right now, because it is a long process of paperwork and appeals for homeowners to agree on prices, and we do want them to be happy.”
According to Cole, by grouping together the homes to buy out, the municipality will save hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, since each flood costs Pompton Lakes an average of $297,000 for police evacuation efforts, garbage collection and emergency relief overtime.
“Since we are buying out whole neighborhoods that are affected by flooding four or five times a year right now, police officers won’t have to keep evacuating the same households, garbage pickups won’t be as extreme and the roadways near that new open space can get taken out,” Cole said. “That alone will cut down spending in our town tremendously.”
But not all of the seven municipalities that will receive FEMA funding will benefit.
According to Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor James Barberio, the 26 voluntary home buyouts the township and FEMA have approved are scattered, so the township will have to incur the expenses of demolition and upkeep for the permanent open space plots. Since Morris County has not yet decided to subsidize the remaining 25 percent of the buyouts’ pre-flood home values, Parsippany may be forced to fund that difference, and Barberio does not see any savings on the side of the township.
“We’re like infants on this, it’s new for all of us,” Barberio said. “Hurricane Irene was the first flood damage we had in 27 years, so we don’t have clusters of repeatedly damaged homes. It’s not like we can turn the land into a park or anything, because there are homes on the same streets, and it’s all over the place.”