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City commissioners talk tornado assistance

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The Dickinson Press
City commissioners talk tornado assistance
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Dickinson City Commissioners are worried about how businesses will bounce back financially after a tornado hit the city July 8.

Commissioners have less than a week to decide what reimbursement route to take, they said during a Monday meeting.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said individual assistance for residents was obtained immediately after the storm as Stark County was under an existing federal emergency declaration from spring flooding. Under the only open category, individuals, but not businesses, qualified for help.

The city had 30 days from the date of the tornado to request an independent, federal declaration, putting the deadline at Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has, thus far, distributed $130,000 to individuals affected by the tornado.

"It really helped to have that declaration to work under because that meant the response was very quick from the Federal Emergency Management Agency," Kessel said. "But, as we tally up all of the expenses from all these public organizations, it has become apparent that there has been a lot more dollars expended than we thought."

Kessel said there could be negative side-effects to obtaining a federal declaration.

"That funding, although wonderful for our residents, does not open up other categories that would allow all of the public agencies to be reimbursed for their expenses," Kessel said.

Businesses and agencies such as Roughrider Electric, Dickinson State University, the Dickinson Park District, Dickinson Rural Fire Department and the Department of Transportation do not fall under the existing emergency declaration.

Dickinson alone has received $400,000 in tornado-related expenses, Kessel said.

Coincidently, if the individual declaration is granted, then rules for disbursements change, he said.

The amount of structures damaged is a major determining factor if a community receives assistance.

"As a general rule, 100 homes have to be damaged to a major extent. Obtaining a definition of what major is has been difficult," Kessel said.

Damage totals must also be met -- $74,000 in Stark County and $1 million for the state -- to qualify.

One of the most concerning questions, Kessel said, was the $130,000 in FEMA-aid already distributed to individuals.

A conference call with city officials and federal officials is scheduled for this morning. A special City Commission meeting is Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at Dickinson City Hall to discuss the phone call findings and to make a declaration decision.

In other business

- The historical Elks building in downtown Dickinson will be seeing a bit more activity, Kessel said.

Kessel said five pallets of bricks have been removed, all exterior windows on the building will be replaced in three weeks and tenants are slated to move into the first and second floors of the building. Kessel said within the next three to four weeks, the stucco store will also be removed.

- Oil leases, easements and royalties total $84,000, with oil royalties having decreased 58 percent since 2008.

- Undercemetery plot ordinances, plots can remain unused for 60 years. Public Works Manager Skip Rapp suggested this time frame be revised to 80 years.

- City Assessor Jan Zent addressed property valuations after the tornado. "The 2009 valuations were already certified so the property owners will have to go through the abatement process," Zent said.

The abatement would take effect from the date of the tornado and interested peeople need to go to City Hall to fill out required paperwork.

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