Request Full Accounting of Damages Relayed to Federal Government; Hard-Hit Passaic and Middlesex Also Left Out In the Fiscal Cold
TRENTON – Senators Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo today called on state emergency management officials to detail publicly how Bergen, Passaic and Middlesex counties were left out of the recent FEMA declaration making municipalities adversely impacted by October’s snowstorm eligible for federal assistance.
Their call echoed fears from some Bergen officials, as well as Congressmen Steve Rothman and William Pascrell, that a clerical error by state officials tallying up the damages had underestimated the impact on the county, leaving it below the threshold for federal aid.
The senators (both D-Bergen) noted that many of their constituents were among the 83,000 Bergen County residents left without power for nearly a week. Those blackouts were largely due to the downing of trees that snapped under the weight of the snow, taking out power lines.
“Many of our municipalities had exhausted their yearly storm cleanup budgets before last winter even ended, and have been stretched to find the funds to pay for September’s floods and now October’s snow,” said Sarlo, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “Without aid from FEMA now, they will have no recourse but to raise property taxes to pay for cleanup. Having spoken to numerous local and county officials, there’s no way Bergen County should be left off FEMA’s list. If this was an honest mistake, then let’s correct it and resubmit our numbers to Washington so our towns and taxpayers can get the help they deserve.”
“The snow may have fallen in October, but its impacts may lead to a winter of discontent for local officials and property taxpayers unless this situation get straightened out,” said Weinberg. “It’s impossible that the most populous county — where more than 10 percent of the state’s residents live and where tens of thousands of residents were left without power for days on end and many roads remained closed long after the storm due to fallen trees — didn’t meet the threshold for FEMA aid. If someone added wrong, then let’s fill in the right numbers and get our towns the help they need. This isn’t the time for pride, this is the time to get it right.”
The senators said they will also request that the state Department of Community Affairs work with towns in anticipation of a corrected FEMA declaration to allow them to prepare their budgets accordingly, so that property taxes do not have to be raised. They noted that the lag time between FEMA declarations and the delivery of aid can sometimes take months, and without DCA’s cooperation towns that may in fact get reimbursed from the federal government for storm expenses would have to raise taxes, rather than budget in anticipation of storm assistance.