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Stafford Tables Rate Ordinance; Concentrates on Sandy's Aftermath

Citing no time to review a water and sewer rate study, the Township Council kept focus on the recovery efforts and FEMA funding.

With an estimated 5000 homes damaged by Sandy, according to Mayor John Spodofora, Tuesday’s Township Council meeting was centered on providing residents information and bureaucratic relief.

The council finalized a resolution to waive all permit and inspections fees for homes and businesses damaged by Sandy.

In addition, an ordinance was introduced to also waive all redevelopment fees for any construction projects associated with the storm and any future affordable housing projects. Final approval is scheduled for the end of year meeting, scheduled for Dec. 27.

Redevelopment fees are based on a percentage of the cost of a project and go to fund future affordable housing projects, according to Township Administrator James Moran.

An ordinance to establish water and sewer rates for 2013 was tabled because the mayor and council said they felt they did not have sufficient time to study a recent rate study conducted for the department.

“I think we need time to get more information ourselves and then be able to provide more clarity to the public before moving forward,” said Councilman Robert Kusznikow in making a motion to table the ordinance.   

The approved motion effectively ends any action on the water and sewer rates until after the New Year, said Spodofora.

During his comments section of the meeting, the Mayor praised all emergency responders, township employees, and volunteers for their inital response and ongoing efforts during the current disaster situation.

Spodofora then said he was sad to report the Beach Haven West Community Center on Mill Creek Road may not be salvageable since the floors and foundation bubbled up and buckled during the storm. The township has engineers inspecting it, but it does not look good, he said.

The mayor also said the county - on behalf of all the municipalities - is applying to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to cover 90% of the disaster costs, as opposed the current 75% they are regulated to provide.

“Governor Christie is also appealing directly to Washington to cover a full 100% of the clean up costs,” he added.

Clean up efforts

In his comments, Moran said the county had taken over the debris removal project in Beach Haven West and other areas affected by Sandy, and they anticipated having the majority of it picked up by the end of the month.

“There was a delay in the project from Tuesday to Sunday of Thanksgiving week as the county moved in, but it is now fully underway,” said Moran.

He estimated more than 150,000 cubic yards of debris has been carted out so far with the streets being swept clean behind the clean up.

The county takeover has dramatically cut the cost for Stafford from an earlier estimated $22M to around $5-$7M, said Moran.

Residents can check the township website for a schedule of when crews will be in their area.

The clean up efforts have raised some safety concerns for residents in the Mill Creek and East Point areas of Beach Haven West. One resident said the constant truck traffic; along with heavy equipment loading dumpsters in the roads make driving conditions hazardous. Despite this, people are exceeding the speed limit and the “gawkers” are crowding the road.

The mayor said he would ask the police chief to increase patrols in the area and establish a more visible presence.    

The township is also working with FEMA to assist in funding the clean up in the lagoons and other waterways, said Moran. “Being the only town with a lagoon maintenance program in place gives us some leverage with them,” he said.

Rebuilding information  

The administrator and Councilman Henry Mancini addressed questions concerning FEMA’s ICC (Increased Compliance Costs) grants that can be used to raise severely damaged homes.

A formula based on a percentage of the pre-storm value of a home versus the amount of damage is used to determine if a home is eligible for ICC funding.

A home must have had flood insurance at the time of the storm, said Moran.

The estimate of the repair costs from the flood insurance adjuster must exceed 50% of the value of the home. In Stafford’s case, that value is based on the assessed improvement value that can be found on a homeowner’s tax bill or obtained from the assessor’s office, said Mancini.   

Improvements such as decks, bulkheads and sheds are deducted from that amount by FEMA, according to Moran.

In addition, the amount may increase slightly as the current assessments are approximately 93% of true value, said Mancini.

Once it has been determined that the damages exceed 50% of the value, a homeowner would be eligible for up to $30,000 in ICC hazardous mitigation funds to raise their home to an elevation above the area flood plain as required by FEMA, said Moran.

Moran also said township and state construction codes will require any home with more than 50% damage to be rebuilt to all current codes, such as electric and plumbing, not just elevation.

There was also some concern from a resident who had begun to make repairs and a local architect about a possible change in the flood plain height requirement by FEMA for flood insurance.

The mayor told the resident that since she had already started her repairs she would be “grandfathered” in at the current levels. As for future rebuilding, FEMA was scheduled to release information concerning any new levels early next week, he added.

“Check back with us then, and we hope to have the answer,” said Spodofora.

Mikie December 06, 2012 at 04:00 PM
I don't know about you, but I did not get a pay raise last year, consider myslef lucky to have my job. Now they are going to want still more money? I must live within my means, which becomes harder for us every year, but they do not? Really, how do they expect the average person to keep paying these increases......for everything?
Steve Moran December 06, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Ann: FYI, this reporter did ask and was given pretty much the answer I reported. I plan to follow up on this situation. However, under the current circumstances it is not now the time and place. Look for more after the New Year. Also, if you review the video of the Aug. meeting online you will see there was a plan to adopt an ordinance calling for an annual rate study to report on the state of the W&S Dept. and any future changes. Again the Patch will follow this and report as we are certain of the facts we are presenting to our readers. Steve.
Steve Moran December 07, 2012 at 07:54 AM
Martha: We at the Patch did not see the tabled ordinance and don't know what it stated. Therefore, we are in no position to report on it. When it resurfaces, and we have the facts in front of us, we shall do so. Nor have we seen the study or confirmed why it was done. The mayor and council are on record calling for a study shortly after the recent increases were implemented. See the online video of the August meeting at approximately the 24 minute mark. Until we know what the details are and what action the administration intends to take based on them, the Patch is in no position to accurately report on it. Others are free to speculate, make accusations or comment on this or any other subject in the comments or by sending us tips. We however, will report only on stories that we can confirm. At Tuesday's meeting, Sandy and the thousands of homes and businesses affected by the storm were the priority. So on a personal note, I can understand why that is where the township council's meeting was focused.
Ann Powers December 07, 2012 at 02:33 PM
If anyone on the governing body is asked, "Are rates going up?" I believe the answer will be, "Yes." The timing for the ordinance's introduction definitely was a factor in its being tabled...if you ask direct questions and demand direct answers, you'll learn that in fact, there is a call for yet another rate hike and some council members are not happy. Past experience says that tabling the ordinance means any rate hike in 2013 will be retroactive so, once again, rate payers will be hit with increases plus retro. The rate study was requested because of the surcharge, followed by exorbitant rate hikes that really angered residents and business owners. I believe it is public information,which means Patch -- and anyone else, for that matter -- has a right to see that rate study.
KRaz December 09, 2012 at 06:57 PM
What about the resolution on Permit Fees for the thousands who sustained damage from the storm? I stopped by the township building to find out what permits would be necessary and was informed the fees would not be waived. Really? Stafford will benefit from me and others like me who thought they should complete their storm repairs legally. WTH?

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