Council expands Flood Relief Fund to cover wider range of disasters

BEN MIKESELL | THE GOSHEN NEWSIn this February 2018 file photo, water floods U.S. 33, causing road closures between Indiana Avenue and Chicago Avenue in Goshen.

GOSHEN — A flood relief emergency fund created by the city in response to the record-breaking flooding of February 2018 was expanded Tuesday by the Goshen City Council to cover a much wider range of potential future disasters.

During their meeting, council members voted to approve Ordinance 5006, which renamed the city’s former Flood Relief Fund to Emergency Relief Fund, and significantly expanded its permitted uses.

“As you’re all well aware, we created the Flood Relief Fund during the flood last year in February. We still had a lot of funds left over in there, so what we talked about in meetings with several council members, and also with staff, is reestablishing this fund to be able to utilize it for other natural disasters, disasters that happen in our community,” Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said in introducing the ordinance Tuesday. “It will be my intent in the budgeting process every year to fully appropriate every last dollar that’s in that account at the beginning of the year. That way we can react quickly, and don’t have to come back for additional appropriations.”

Stutsman noted that the emergency relief funds will only be available for use once he has officially declared an emergency resulting from a natural disaster, and thus will not be available to assist with smaller events, such as a single house fire, etc.

“This is about being able to react quicker but appropriately at the same time,” Stutsman added of the ordinance. “I believe that for these funds to be utilized, it would have to be under a situation where I have declared an emergency within the community of Goshen. That’s something that we do through the county and the state, so it’s not something that you just do. There have to be really good reasons for it.”

FORMS OF ASSISTANCE

As stated in the ordinance, a qualifying natural disaster is defined as “any natural catastrophe, including any tornado, earthquake, wind storm, snow storm, ice storm, fire or flood occurring in any part of the Goshen city limits which, in the determination of the Mayor, causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant emergency assistance under this ordinance to supplement the efforts and available resources in alleviating the damages and losses caused by the natural disaster.”

The ordinance goes on to note that, following a declaration by the mayor that an emergency exists, the Emergency Relief Fund may be used for the purpose of providing emergency assistance to individuals and households in the city who are displaced from their primary residences, or whose primary residences are rendered uninhabitable as a result of damage caused by a natural disaster.

The forms in which that emergency assistance can be provided is broken into three primary sections. Those include:

• Assistance to individuals and households for the repair of an owner-occupied primary residence damaged by a natural disaster to a safe and sanitary living or functioning condition. The emergency assistance shall be for uninsured damages or losses to real property.

• Assistance to individuals and households for the replacement of an owner-occupied primary residence damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster. The emergency assistance shall be for uninsured damages or losses to real property.

• Temporary shelter or other temporary housing assistance to individuals and households. The emergency assistance shall be for any individuals and households in need of shelter.

“The Mayor shall assess the severity and magnitude of losses and damages caused by the natural disaster and determine the nature and extent of emergency assistance available and how eligible individuals or households may apply for emergency assistance,” the ordinance adds of the community’s access to the Emergency Relief Fund.

SOURCES OF FUNDING

As originally presented, the ordinance listed allowable sources of funding for the Emergency Relief Fund — which currently holds a balance of about $108,000 — as monetary contributions, donations or gifts from a person, firm, limited liability company or corporation.

For his part, Councilman Adam Scharf questioned whether the city, as a governmental entity, would be able to contribute to the fund as well.

In response, city attorney Larry Barkes noted that such contributions could be tricky, as they would involve the use of taxpayer dollars.

“There are issues as far as putting tax dollars into it. Different requirements would apply. So if we’re going to use tax funding for it, we’re going to have to use a different mechanism,” Barkes told the council. “If we have grant money available to us, gift money available to us — and there may be some other funds — but off the top of my head, those are the two that the city could put into this fund. So with this we’ll have funding available, hopefully we’ll have new funding available, and you’re going to be able to make this work faster. But you also have some restrictions on what can be put into it.”

Scharf then raised the question of whether or not grants from other governmental entities, such as the state and federal government, could potentially be used as funding sources for the Emergency Relief Fund.

“It depends on the nature of the grants,” Barkes said in response. “When you’re receiving grants from other government agencies, you always have to look at the restrictions on that particular grant in order to know what you have to do to be able to spend that particular grant. So there would probably be grants that could be immediately put into this particular fund, but there would be other types of grants where we would have to go through the specific process established by the terms of the grants.”

Given that fact, Scharf made a motion to amend the “Sources of Funding” line of the ordinance to include language stating that the city is open to accepting funding and grants from other governmental agencies, as long as the city is able to comply with any connected requirements. The motion to amend was passed unanimously.

VOICE OF SUPPORT

Upon opening up the discussion to the audience, Goshen resident Glenn Null said he felt the proposal to rename and expand the reach of the city’s Flood Relief Fund was a step in the right direction for the city and garnered his full support.

“I think it’s very important that we have something in place to help,” Null said of the Emergency Relief Fund. “I think this is a good idea. It is a feather in our cap for the city to be proactive and be ahead of the game instead of scrambling, like most agencies are.”

The council’s members agreed, and motion to approve the ordinance as amended was passed unanimously on both first and second readings.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN

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