The town of Jay will host a public information meeting next week to educate property owners and local officials about the potential federal buyout of homes affected by Tropical Storm Irene.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16 at the town of Jay Community Center, on School Lane in AuSable Forks. Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, who also chairs the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said in an emailed statement that his town is holding the meeting in conjunction with Essex and Clinton counties.
So far, more than 60 property owners in Essex County have expressed interest in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's property acquisition program. The deadline to submit letters of intent to the county is Feb. 29.
According to Douglas, officials from FEMA and the State Emergency Management Office will be on hand to explain how the buyout program works.
"I am most proud of the fact that Essex County and Clinton County are the first out of 28 counties affected by Tropical Storm Irene in New York state to host such an information meeting," Douglas said. "This meeting is monumental for public officials and affected property owners in regards to the acquisition/buyout program."
Douglas, along with Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee and other appointed officials from Essex County, recently assembled a team of local assessors and code enforcement officers to compile a list of frequently asked questions about FEMA's program. Douglas said he hopes those questions and concerns will be addressed at next week's meeting.
"Although the town of Jay is familiar with the buyout process, having gone through one in 1996, some of the criteria to qualify have changed over the years," he said. "For example: For homes to be considered in the acquisition/buyout program, they must have over 50 percent damage and must have documented multiple flooding incidents."
Essex County Community Resources Director Mike Mascarenas said the county will apply for buyouts on behalf of homeowners. Douglas called the process "complex and time consuming."
Douglas said the first portion of the meeting will focus on educating the public about the FEMA program. After that, state and federal officials will take questions from those in attendance.
Douglas said his town, and the county, could see a negative effect from the buyouts.
"We are very concerned about losing tax base from the homes that may qualify for the acquisition/buyout," he said, "but we can not morally continue to ask our people to continue to be in harm's way."
Mascarenas said recently that there's still time for property owners to get involved in the buyout process, but he said the window of opportunity will close soon.
Homeowners traditionally get about 75 percent of their property's assessed value from the federal government. The remaining 25 percent, Douglas said, is usually divided between the county and the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has lobbied for FEMA to increase its share in order to help cash-strapped local governments.