Reno County, Kan., Residents Asked to Document Flood Damage

"The state will also send a Damage Assessment Team to meet with the townships and do their own assessment of the roadways. The Damage Assessment Teams usually don't come out until 6 to 8 weeks after things have dried up."

by John Green, The Hutchinson News, Kan. / June 5, 2019

(TNS) — Reno County officials are asking residents in the county who suffered damage from flooding to fill out a damage report that can be included in applications for potential state and federal aid.

Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar said they would attempt to get a form on the county's website, renogov.org, by the end of Tuesday for people to print and fill out.

Officials with Emergency Management, the county appraiser's office, and planning and zoning are working jointly to create the form so information each agency needs will be collected at one time.

It's unlikely homes would qualify for direct aid unless they had at least three feet of water in the main level of the house, Weishaar said, although if the county can meet a certain threshold, it may qualify households to receive zero-interest loans to assist individuals with repairs.

"The good news is that river levels are going down," Weishaar told the Reno County Commission Tuesday morning.

Numerous township roads, however, are likely to remain flooded for another two weeks, he said.

Making assessments

Evaluators were in the county this week to document roads with water over them, so the county can later make claims when the water is down and damages can be assessed.

The two-person crew, made up of emergency managers from other states, are working for the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, Weishaar said.

"The state will also send a Damage Assessment Team to meet with the townships and do their own assessment of the roadways," Weishaar said. "The Damage Assessment Teams usually don't come out until 6 to 8 weeks after things have dried up."

He didn't expect estimates on the cost of road repairs "for weeks."

Reno County Appraisal staff, meanwhile, are hearing from lots of residents about damages as they are out doing annual assessments. Appraisers must re-assess 17 percent of all property in the county annually, so the entire county is covered at least every five years, to adjust property values.

"Right now they're running into people everywhere," Weishaar said. "There's just a lot of damage out there. A lot of it is not severe, but some of it is."

Adjusting property values

"Every day one or a couple (of appraisers) come back to say they ran into this person who had their basement completely flooded and is having to rip out the finish, or something along those lines," said Cindy Rehlander, quality control analyst with the Appraiser's Office.

"What we're trying to do is get ahead of it, to set up a list for us to set up appointments toward the end of the year to go look at all the properties," she said.

They will adjust information they have on the property data sheets for any changes that have occurred that lower a property's value, such as a finished basement that become unfinished because drywall had to be ripped out.

If, however, the damages are repaired before the end of the year, Rehlander advised, appraisers would have to make a re-adjustment.

"We're working right now on contacting several difference city offices and entities to see if we can leave forms there so that residents can pick them up there," she said.

The value adjustments are not the same as a tax abatement, which can be granted on a home if at least 50 percent or more of the value of the house is lost.

"There's got to be pretty significant damage to meet those requirements," Rehlander said. "We're hoping that through this process we're able to determine which ones will meet that, or feel like they could possibly meet it. Then we'll have a submission document for that."

The county commission granted property tax abatements last year on several homes damaged or destroyed by the previous year's wildfires.

"We know tons of basements were flooded," Weishaar said. "We need to know that information, too, to benefit us in the long run. But it's the first floor of the residence they focus on where people live. It's hard to get individual assistance. The state said the last time they saw that was in 2007. But it will assist us in trying to get there. We can also try for an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan for residents that's zero percent for the life of the loan."

Again, he said, there is a qualifying loss threshold.

"We'd like to get information on all the residential damage as soon a possible," Weishaar said, in response to a question from Commission Chairman Bob Bush about deadlines. "The faster we can get it taken care of, the faster we can get the help we need. The longer it sits, the more issues it can cause, with rot and mold."

Rebuilding

Next week, County Administrator Gary Meagher said, the planning department will bring up the issue of allowing people to rebuild in some flooded regions. The policy was previously discussed during drafting of the county's comprehensive plan.

As of Tuesday, one county blacktop still had a high water sign, and five remained closed. All are due to flooding from the Arkansas River, said Road and Bridge Superintendent Don Brittain.

"We still have people driving around barricades," Brittain said. "I saw some this morning."

"When we close roads, we use different barricades," he said. "Some are type 1, with one bar, and some type 2, with three bars. The townships have foldout 'road closed' signs. But they are just as legal to abide by as a barricade."

The danger often is what is not visible from the roadway, Brittain said, noting they've discovered at least one road — 56th Avenue — where the earth underneath the pavement is washed out at least 8 feet deep.

"It may look fine, but if the road is closed, there is an issue," he said. "If you don't see it, it doesn't mean there isn't a problem, especially with bridges."

One road south of Nickerson, Brittain said, it has developed a low spot. They don't know yet if that's because the ground is waterlogged or washed out. Either way, the roadbed beneath the asphalt may have to be dug out and replaced. But officials won't know until things dry out.

And the forecast, once again, includes chances of rain.

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©2019 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)

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