City Clerk's work to capture the hours worked by volunteers could mean significant revenue for the city of Hamburg.
A dedicated accounting of hours could save significant dollars for taxpayers in the City of Hamburg as it works to recover from the historic flooding events of 2019.
Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain spoke on the topic of donated resources during the regular September meeting of the City Council on Monday night and credited Hamburg City Clerk Sheryl Owen for her diligent efforts to make sure that all volunteer hours were captured for submission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The city stands to receive compensation for a percentage of those hours.
As the city began its flood fight, volunteers came to Hamburg to help in a variety of ways. City Clerk Owen made sure to get an accounting for the hours worked by volunteers helping the city, an effort that included logging hours for those working at the Hamburg Relief Center. Organizations included Americorps, GoServ Global and more.
“Sheryl did such a good job of making sure everybody captured their hours,” said Mayor Crain. “We need to keep working, keep volunteering and keep track of hours. There is a little bit of money there and a little bit helps a lot.”
In 2011, such accounting of donated resources provided significant return income for the city of Hamburg as it worked to recover from that flood event.
The accounting of donated hours is far from the only FEMA claim related task for Owen. Since the disaster, Owen’s work on organizing the details of projects have proven critical for the city.
At the time of the disaster, the city of Hamburg had under $60K in debts and boasted a cash reserve of $500K. When the flooding struck, the city’s ability to provide services halted. The city was forced to burn through its cash reserve and then go into debt in order to continue to function and to recover from the flood event.
As of Monday night, the city’s debt obligations rose to $765K.
Without a return of funds from FEMA, the citizens would be looking at paying back all or at least most of that debt amount.
For the months that followed the flood disaster, Owen has been meeting with FEMA twice per week to work on detail requirements for projects.
If the projects are approved, FEMA would compensate the city at 75 percent of its incurred expenses. The state of Iowa would take care of 10 percent and the city would be left with 15 percent.
Currently, there is one project waiting for approval by FEMA, that being costs associated with the city water plant repairs. The payment would be $179K and Owen said the city of Hamburg is working on submission for grant dollars that would help pay Hamburg’s 15 percent obligation related to the water plant.
Dollars to be used on city obligation for the water plant come from a one million dollar award to be used on water projects only. Owen said the city would only be using a small percentage of the grant dollars available at current, but also said she is working to see what other water related expenses can be submitted for payment and added that dollars from the grant could be available for projects down the road should Hamburg work on new housing development that would grow the municipality outside of the flood plain area.
In addition to the water plant grant, the city of Hamburg has been working to secure as many grant dollars as possible to offset debt. Mayor Crain said the city has applied for some 24 grants since the start of the disaster.
Monday marked day 175 of Hamburg’s active flood fight.
Such a protracted effort can lead to fatigue and detailed work could be effected. The employees and the government officials in Hamburg are working hard to make sure the detailed work doesn’t suffer.
Another FEMA effort for the city has been walking through each part of the city to assess damages. FEMA walk throughs have been conducted for the streets, wells, lagoons, lift station and parks. Al Dovel of the city of Hamburg said some of the walk throughs would have to be conducted a second time due to clerical errors on the part of FEMA.
Overall, Owen said it has been determined that the street projects in Hamburg have been separated into two areas, south Hamburg, which received a major percentage of flood damage, and north Hamburg. Owen said funds from FEMA designated for use in south Hamburg could be redirected for repair costs in north Hamburg if the city decided not to repair unneeded roads in south Hamburg.
Ditch 6 Levee
While Owen works on the FEMA issues, Dovel’s focus has been on making sure that Hamburg gets the levee repairs for Ditch 6 that were once promised by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps has backed away from a promise to build a better Ditch 6 levee. According to the Corps of Engineers, the city of Hamburg is no longer in an active emergency situation since water from the Missouri River is not actively flowing toward the town. Without an emergency situation, the Corps said it doesn’t have the authorization to repair the Ditch 6 levee to a height that would protect the city from a major flood event.
Significant dollars must be found in order for Hamburg to build the levee up on its own. An initial work to build the base of the levee could be sent for out bid soon. Hamburg would be responsible for paying for ground to be used for the levee build while the Corps of Engineers would supply labor for that initial base work only.
Cost of the dirt for the levee project figures to be between $400K and $500K.
In order to build the levee to a higher and final protection height, the city faces paying the entire bill.
“We can’t build it without the money and we don’t have any money,” said Mayor Crain. “We will keep working on finding the money.”
The city is approaching the state government for financial help and is determined to make a working plan for the levee.
“It is very possible they will just give us what they can and we will have to build a levee with that,” Mayor Crain said.
Mayor Crain spoke to the council about the need for administrative reorganization of city tasks that would relieve Dovel and Owen from some of the day-to-day business of the city so that they can focus more time on levee and FEMA related issues. The reorganization does not involve hiring new staff but for using the existing staff more efficiently.
Crain said the hope is that the reorganization would be temporary, possibly as little as six months.
“We need to do it to be smart and to protect our city,” Crain said. “Now we really know what we are involved in. We’ve kind of got our arms around this. We know what it is going to take. It’s going to take a bit more than we have been throwing at it.”
Council member Willie Thorp stressed the importance of the levee to the future of Hamburg.
“The levee is 100 percent important if we are going to keep the town and keep the businesses,” Thorp said.
Dovel is spending a major amount of time tracking the levee issues. Included in the effort is working out details of agreements to buy ground. The city has two agreements with landowners that it will call on for the initial base build and, hopefully, later on for the enhanced levee build. Dovel is also securing easements with the owners of property along the levee.
Council member Kent Benefiel noted the importance of Owen’s FEMA work as well.
“If Sheryl doesn’t get through that FEMA pile, there will be no money coming back in. That’s our revenue source,” said Benefiel.
Also of administrative consideration, Owen requested and the council approved the purchase of a lap top computer from Midwest Data that will help with data entry issues.
Citizens interested in participating in a FEMA buy out program will likely have to wait until next year for that chance. Mayor Crain said the city has been notified that the federal government will not have funds available for buy outs this year.
It is for that reason that the city of Hamburg will prioritize levee funding in its request from the state rather than asking for help related to buy outs. The levee is of utmost importance now. The reservoirs in the Missouri River system are at or near the exclusive flood control zone, meaning there is little storage available for more water. Releases from Gavins Point continue at 70K cubic feet per second, which means a high river. A wet winter and rain in the spring could lead to a major flood threat from a levee system that is getting only a basic repair at this point.
Breaches would bring water back to town if the levee is not effectively addressed.
“If you don’t have a levee, there is no buy out to do,” said Benefiel.
In other news:
The city approved three building permits. Chuck and Julie O’Barsky are building a fence. Glenda Moore was approved for the foundation for new garage and Bartlett Grain was approved to construct a large metal frame building, measuring 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. Mayor Crain said she was excited to hear about Bartlett’s project and added that it was nice to see an agenda item that represented normal business instead of all issues being flood related.
A vote on a resolution by the council will allow the Emergency Downtown Catalyst Grant to move forward. The grant is for small businesses of a certain elevation which incurred flood damage. The small business must have retail space on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor. One Hamburg business has been identified for the project, that being the business owned by Mike Gallagher. Mayor Crain said there might be two or three more business owners who would be able to get funding through the grant. The city of Hamburg will help businesses apply for the grant and the business will then work directly with the state to obtain funds.
The city will demolish buildings at 1910 Main St., and 1500 Main St., as part of a project to develop blighted property. The state is providing funding to help with the project. Under the arrangement, the city buys the property and demolishes the structure on the property. A house can then be built on the site at a lower cost to the new owner—$115 to $125 per square foot, as opposed to $200. A public hearing on the project will be Oct. 14.
The council voted to approve Ordinance 167 to designate the portion of Hamburg north of the flag pole as the 2019 residential and urban revitalization area.
Mayor Crain spoke to the council members about the city’s $765K in debt. Crain said that, although the debt will eventually decrease with payments from FEMA and the state of Iowa, it could be expected that the debt will increase in the meantime as it takes a very long time to get funds from FEMA and from the state.
Dovel said the city employees will be working to remove the double Hesco barriers through the heart of Hamburg which were installed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps doesn’t provide help with removing the barriers. Since it is a laborious task, the city will dedicate itself to removing the barriers when possible and slowly work toward getting the job done over time.
The debris pile on A Street will be a major focus for the city crew. There have been additions to the debris pile over time including additions by non-residents of Hamburg. Dovel said he is working to get dump trucks and hopes to get the pile removed as soon as possible.
Owen said the Hamburg City Library had a Popcorn Day related event to celebrate the library’s 100th birthday. Another celebration in October will further note the 100th year celebration.
Dovel told the council that the Hamburg city pool has been drained.
A Popcorn Day softball tournament was conducted at the ball complex in Hamburg. Dovel said he was pleased to report that the tournament organizers did an excellent job of cleaning up after their event.
The Colonial Theater hosted a Popcorn Day matinee. Seats have not been installed so those in attendance brought lawn chairs into the theater for the show.
Future development of ground for city use north of Golden Acres appears cost prohibitive as the city would have to purchase the ground for $300K, much higher than what was originally hoped. Council member Benefiel said he didn’t think the city could buy the ground and offer affordable lots for citizens to purchase for housing. The council members agreed to continue looking for development options for the city.
Council member Russell Stockstell reported that the new cell at the Fremont County Landfill had been completed. Prior to the flood event, the addition fo the new cell had been a much debated topic due to finance issues. Revenue from flood related debris removal has alleviated the prior financial concerns.
Kim Ashlock approached the city council in regard to concerns about grain trucks parking in her neighborhood. She said she feels the trucks raise safety and traffic concerns. In response to her concern, Dovel said the city is working to establish a truck parking area that should be completed soon. Once the parking area is made available, Dovel said the grain truck drivers will find more advantage in utilizing that area.