After the Storm: Lessons from Irene and Lee

Special Opinion Piece For The Spotlight By Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Schenectady-Saratoga)
October 17, 2011
In the span of a few short weeks, the Capital Region was hit with an earthquake, two tropical storms and a tornado. These alarming natural disasters left some wondering, ďWhatís next? The frogs and locusts?Ē

The body blows our area took from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, a week later, has had a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.

Many people sustained catastrophic damages to their homes and businesses.

Communities across Upstate New York have been torn apart by the devastation.

My office was impacted by these disasters not only by the affect on the constituents I represent, but also as one of my staff members lost their home and was forced to move because of flooding and water damage.

As the recovery continues, itís critical that our state continues to do everything in its power to help our neighbors rebuild.

In the past few weeks, many have been working on several fronts to help flood victims rebuild and get back on their feet.

Along with the Governorís efforts, Iíve called on his office to commence an evaluation of how prepared New York was with regards to Irene and how effective its response was in mitigating the stormís impact.

Before Irene landed, most people believed New York City was going to take the brunt of the storm. Obviously, that didnít happen and our area ended up getting hammered by Ireneís fury.

Perhaps New York attempted to do its best but hindsight is 20/20, and it is important that we evaluate how New York prepared and responded to this horrific situation.

That is why I believe it is important for Governor Cuomo to issue a public report so New York and its communities can better prepare for emergency procedures if we are ever faced with a disaster like this again.

Along with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, I have introduced legislation to temporarily suspend sales taxes on essentials for victims of Irene and recent incidences of flooding in New York State.

The sales tax credits are for moving expenses (i.e., renting a truck, placing belongings in storage) and for replacing appliances, clothing, furnaces, sump pumps, air conditioners, vehicles and re-construction materials that were damaged by flooding.

Eligible recipients must reside in or own a business in any New York county declared a federal disaster area and must show proof that they are a flood victim by being certified by an insurer or government official. This tax credit would be applicable to individualsí or businessesí 2011 and 2012 income taxes.

Senator Hugh Farley has introduced this measure in the Senate.

The state stands to earn a windfall in sales tax revenue from all the thousands of New Yorkers who must rebuild their lives. This is money that was not anticipated and would never have been part of the state coffers, therefore, the state should not profit off the backs of the victims of these disasters.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin and I have also called on state and federal leaders to provide meaningful relief to flood victims by giving first-time homeowner status and benefits to storm victims who lost their homes.

Currently, first-time home buyers have a variety of federal and state programs and services available to help them afford a house.

Better Neighborhoods, Inc. currently has four homes in Schenectady that, if first-time buyer rules were waived, could be available for eligible flood victims.

Along with insurance, FEMA and state aid, and the Governorís appliance rebate program, these solutions are part of a holistic approach to help rebuild affected communities. We also need to enable homeowners whoíve lost their homes to be re-assessed, as originally proposed by Assemblyman George Amedore, which I and many others support, since their properties are worth much less than before the storms hit, yet are still liable for the same hefty property tax bills as if nothing ever happened.

It would be another type of tragedy not to learn from this experience and improve our emergency preparedness and response procedures.

The unthinkable happened -- and it occurred in our own backyard here in Upstate New York. Letís take advantage of the experience and evaluate how we would address another similar event even more efficiently.

In the past few weeks, Iíve seen firsthand the generosity of residents who want to help their neighbors. Caring citizens have organized fundraisers and food and clothing drives for those who lost everything in the storms, while others have donated their time to help clear debris and rebuild damaged homes and businesses. Amid the heartbreak and devastation have emerged inspiring stories of hope and healing.

But more needs to be done, and I believe our state government can, and must, capture this spirit and work together to help our fellow New Yorkers get back on their feet.