Vermont towns must meet state criteria for disaster relief money
MONTPELIER -- Vermont's emergency management agency is promising both more carrots and more sticks to cities and towns for better disaster planning.
A new set of criteria will determine how much state money will be available for public disaster recovery. The redesigned Emergency Relief and Assistance Fund targets public projects like roads and infrastructure. Non-compliant towns could stand to lose 5 percent of their recovery reimbursements. A 5 percent bonus is available for extra credit.
Towns now can get reimbursed for all but 12.5 percent of their costs to rebuild after a federally declared disaster. Federal funding, which accounts for 75 percent of recovery costs, would not be affected by the new rules. Only the state's 12.5 percent share is in limbo with the new eligibility requirements.
The state's share will drop to 7.5 percent for towns that don't meet four basic criteria: participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, adoption of the state's most current (2013) road and bridge standards, annual updated emergency operations plans and local hazard mitigation plans.
A fifth criteria, local zoning to prevent building in floodplains, makes towns eligible for an extra 5 percent of state funding. That final checkbox potentially brings the state's share of recovery funding up to 17.5 percent, leaving 7.5 percent for the towns to pick up.
Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation chief with the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the agency's goal is to give communities incentives to make progress in areas that have seen spotty adoption to date.
A grace period will last 30 days after the date of a federally declared disaster. Rose said that means communities could have at least until spring 2015 to work on planning. The heaviest lifting, he said, will be the local hazard mitigation plans. The document must be approved by FEMA, Rose said, and the bar is high.
"It can be burden on a small Vermont town with all-volunteer boards," Rose said. "We have been working with regional planning commissions to assist towns, but to date, there are a lot of towns that don't have it in place." As of last week, adoption rate was only 38 percent, he said.
Compliance rates for other criteria tend to be higher, and a handful of towns already would qualify for the full 17.5 percent of state share.
Floodready.vermont.gov is a state website that provides more information to help community leaders with disaster planning. The site also lists specific status details for each city and town.
Since Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont in August 2011, the state has had five federally declared disasters, Rose said.