Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R,C,I-Schoharie) is drafting new legislation, including a measure entitled the Whole Communities Recovery Act, to help assist New Yorkers get back on their feet after the devastation from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, and create a framework for future disaster relief efforts across the state. Assemblyman Lopez is also preparing legislation and draft regulatory language that would seek to compel the City of New York and the New York Power Authority to be part of a flood control solution for the Schoharie Valley and communities along the Mohawk River. Furthermore, the Assemblyman is calling on Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to immediately convene extraordinary session to address the urgent needs of flood victims and their communities.
“Across the state, New Yorkers continue to suffer from the devastating tropical storms and resulting floods. No region was impacted more than the 127th Assembly District, where residents are still without housing, and businesses and farms continue to struggle,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “Now these communities are faced with massive debt from cleanup, a weakened economy, and greatly reduced tax base. The state must take action now in order to protect the lives and communities at stake.”
Assemblyman Lopez continued, “Recovery is painfully slow, and clearly tied to the availability of outside resources. Yet, I fear that leaving these critical issues unresolved will have a domino effect that will cripple our schools and local governments, and threaten the sustainability of our local economies.”
Assemblyman Lopez’s draft legislation addresses a variety of concerns facing New Yorkers as they struggle to rebuild from recent disasters. Some of the issues addressed in the Assemblyman’s Whole Communities Recovery Act include:
- Grant and Zero-Interest Loan Program for Homeowners: emergency housing assistance grants of $10,000 for rebuilding in place, grants for $30,000 per home in support of improvements that mitigate future damage, and grants for new construction within the community, outside of areas immediately affected by a natural disaster; zero-interest loans would be available to homeowners to refinance existing debt, replace contents as well as rebuild in place or construct new housing; aid levels would be increased for homeowners who engage in flood-proofing or choose to rebuild outside of flood-prone areas in the same community; the Commissioner of Housing would be instructed to assess other existing state housing programs to recommend further statutory changes in support of single- and multi-family homeowners or renters impacted by natural disasters.
- Personal Income Tax Credit and Corporate Franchise Tax Credit for Property Taxes Paid by Home and Business Owners Based on Pre-disaster Assessments: provides a one-year state tax credit equal to the excess in property taxes paid as a reflection of pre- and post-disaster property assessments.
- Business Assistance Reconstruction and Employee Retention Grant & Zero-Interest Reconstruction Loan Program: businesses would be offered a grant of $30,000 for reconstruction and working expenses, and an additional $1,000 for such purposes for every employee retained; loans would be offered for up to 30 years and would include refinancing of existing debt; instructs the CEO of Empire State Development to assess other existing state economic development programs to recommend further statutory changes in support of businesses impacted by natural disasters.
- Suspension of State Agency Mandates: would require that any mandate suspension enacted by the Governor following a natural disaster would remain in effect for a minimum of 12 months; state prevailing wage and WICKS requirements would be suspended for a period of 36 months.
- Production Agricultural Assistance Reconstruction Grant and Zero-Interest Loan Program: family farms and other agricultural production businesses would be offered a grant of $30,000 for reconstruction and working expenses and an additional grant of 15 percent of gross cash income based on previous year receipts; loans would be offered for up to 30 years and would include debt refinancing (note: these funds would be in addition to grants and loans for the homestead, which would be eligible under the homeowners’ assistance provisions of the legislation); instructs the Commissioner of Agriculture to assess other existing state agricultural development programs to recommend further statutory changes in support of farms and other agricultural production businesses impacted by natural disasters.
- Municipal/School District Stop Gap Grant and Zero-Interest Loan Program: provides a one- year grant of 50 percent of real property tax (RPT) revenues lost as a result of reductions in the RPT assessment roll as reflected on the taxable status date immediately following the natural disaster. Zero-interest loans would be available for up to 30 years, with amounts contingent on disaster mitigation accompanying reconstruction. Counties would be offered additional zero-interest loans to cover the cost of property taxes owed to other taxing jurisdictions as a result of property tax delinquencies in the year the disaster occurred.
- Municipal Infrastructure Realignment Program: provides priority consideration for municipal water and sewer expansion in cities, towns and villages to encourage growth and development within the municipality’s borders, outside of areas immediately affected by natural disasters; expansion may be initiated on a prospective basis and need not be tied to proposed housing or business projects.
Lastly, Assemblyman Lopez is advancing legislation and proposed language that would modify DEC regulations to establish a Schoharie Watershed Flood Management District which would, among other things, compel the City of New York and the New York Power Authority to be part of a proactive framework aimed at blunting the impact of future high water events in the Schoharie Valley and along the Mohawk River.
In the request for extraordinary session, Assemblyman Lopez is also asking that a number of other bills regarding flood and emergency recovery efforts (many that he is co-sponsoring) be addressed:
- A.8647: Establishes the flood assessment relief act of 2011 for the counties of Albany, Broome, Chenango, Chemung, Clinton, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Herkimer, Montgomery, Nassau, New York, Oneida, Orange, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tioga, Ulster, Warren, Washington, and Westchester (and similar bills A.8634 and A.8649);
- A.44: Enacts the New York state comprehensive flood mitigation grant act; appropriates $5,000,000 therefor;
- A.8648: Relates to payments of taxes in installments in certain school districts affected by floods or natural disasters;
- A.8654: Requires the state to pay local municipalities’ share of the costs not covered by municipal public assistance from the federal government;
- A.8655: Relates to excluding certain emergency expenditures from school district tax levy limits;
- A.8643: Establishes a credit for sales tax paid by victims who incurred damage as a result of tropical storms Irene and Lee; and
- A.4772: Relates to a program for flood damage to businesses; provides a tax credit for businesses that purchase flood insurance.
“We’ve seen a number of ad hoc programs emerge as a result of Irene & Lee, however, our communities continue to struggle,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “While we are thankful to the Governor and his Flood Task Force for their efforts, we need to be more aggressive in addressing still unresolved issues as well as establishing a predictable framework for responding to the needs of our neighbors across the state. It’s time for Albany to put its collective efforts and resources to work in protecting its people now, and in the future.”