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County finds just $4.3 million to buy flood-ravaged homes

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Mark Richardson

Travis County officials say they have searched their budgets, bond programs and possibly even the couch cushions to come up with $4.3 million to buy out damaged and destroyed homes from the Halloween floods.


But it will be another week or two before County Commissioners will be get an estimate on just how much the total bill might be. And it will be an even longer time before they will know whether there will be any federal funds available to help clean up the mess.


Transportation and Natural Resources staff told Commissioners Court Tuesday that there was a fair amount of interest in the buyout program.


“We have received 58 applications for the buyout program of homes damaged in the October flood,” said Melinda Mallia, an environmental project manager for TNR. “Out of these, 24 of them are in the Timber Creek neighborhood and included new areas where we had not been previously buying. Otherwise, there are 34 others outside the area of Timber Creek. There have been a couple of outliers away from Onion Creek but generally these are all the new flooded areas that we know about.”


Mallia said the court would need to make a decision on whether to expand the buyout program beyond what was done in previous years.


“In this area there are seven businesses that have applied for buyout,” she told commissioners. “In the past, we haven’t purchased commercial properties, but we will be looking to you to proceed with that. 


“We have been working with the planning and budget office to come up with a budget for you to at least understand how much is available to us now, and how much more we might need to accomplish the buyouts of everyone who received major damage who is interested in a buyout.


Taking some funds from the existing Timber Creek buyout program, Mallia said there is about. $2.3 million available to get started on appraisals, which will be necessary to formalize the total budget. She said the county could use some of that money to begin buying out the properties that sustained the most damage.


TNR staff has found – in addition to the $2.3 million – another $400,000 from other programs and the county is set to release another $1.5 million in June 2014, leaving about $4.3 million available for this fiscal year. Staff said that while they expect to take up to two years to complete the buyout program, they hope to be able to be able to buy the properties with the most damage in the next six months.


County Judge Sam Biscoe asked Mallia for an estimated total for the project, but she said that wasn’t quite ready yet.


“I can’t give you that right now,” she said. “We have more information coming next week on all the properties that are outside of Timber Creek and I’ll be able to give you the amount we expect to cost. We have an estimate on Timber Creek of $1.6 million, but we hope the rest of it will be available next week.”


County officials are hoping for financial assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency, but that will depend on the findings of an assessment team that arrives in Central Texas today. County officials say if they find that there is more than $35 million total damage from the October storm, and there is a presidential disaster declaration, money to mitigate the storm damage could be on its way. The county increased its estimate of flood damage upward to $100 million from $14 million last week. A report on the FEMA team’s findings is not expected to be available for at least two weeks, or possibly longer.


Commissioners also met with staff in executive session Tuesday to discuss several other issues regarding the flood’s aftermath. Since none of the issues were on Tuesday’s agenda, commissioners said they would be scheduled for discussion and a possible vote next week.

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