The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner
Residents who lost their homes in the Flood of 2008 and who are taking part in the federal by-out program, are finally receiving compensation.
It has been three years and six months since the levee broke south of Gulfport which sent Mississippi River waters into homes and buildings along its path, and Coral Seitz, Henderson County's Emergency Management Director, has been working non-stop.
Approximately 27 families who had homes in the flood plains have indicated they will take the by-out and the stipulations that go along with it.
According to Seitz, Henderson County applied for and received $7.5 million from the IKE Disaster Grant, a fully funded federal program.
The grant is paying 100% of the properties' appraisal value prior to the flood to participants in the by-outs.
The remaining part of the grant will go toward flood related projects such as hazard mitigation projects, Seitz said.
"It has taken a year to complete the documentation needed. There is so much verification," Seitz explained, "There's the appraisal on each house, the proof showing they were living in the residence at the time, and the records that show them as owners."
Seitz said, in some cases, maybe deeds hadn't been transferred, and so on.
Henderson County also has to make sure there is no duplication of federal payments made through FEMA, the National Flood Insurance, and Small Business Loans, etc. before they can disperse the buy-out funds.
If the county finds the property owners have received help, the amount they received is subtracted from the appraised value of the property, and the balance is disbursed to them.
Seitz is at midpoint, and she has a ways to go before she completes closings for all the by-outs which will leave Gulfport looking like a patchwork quilt with several patches missing.
What this means is the government has bought their property in exchange for the appraised value dollars.
Once the by-outs are complete, the property remains green space forever and can never be built upon. The empty lots at Gulfport may be given to the village to maintain.
"At least people are getting something for their lost property," Seitz said, "But, as far as the county, we have loss of our tax base."
After the flood, some moved elsewhere in the county, but Seitz explained that others have moved across the river into Iowa.
Not all the by-outs are in Gulfport, some are in rural areas, but all are in the county's flood plains on the land side of the levee. Those living on the river side of the levee are not eligible for buy-outs.
Money from the IKE Disaster Grant was funneled down to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity who are holding the $7.5 million and disbursing it as Henderson County draws down on it as each closing and expense occurs.
After Stage I is complete with the estimated 27 homeowners in the by-out program, Seitz will be busy with Stage II for rental property and commercial property, an estimate of around 25 properties. She said the process is just beginning.
Seitz said it is amazing "how much there is to know!"
"Filing a deed, making sure there is proper documentation, and how much documentation there is just for one property and their are many steps, such as a title search, etc.. It's a huge learning experience for me!"
Seitz said, "You may think a deed was filed years ago, but someone may not have gotten around to doing it."
If she had anything to pass on to the public it would be: "Check to see that your deeds and titles are filed at the court house properly, even if you had a professional do it. It doesn't hurt to double check to see if it was filed."