Town provides update for disaster victims
BRATTLEBORO -- Federal and local officials conducted a public information session Tuesday afternoon to provide county residents with additional resources after Tropical Storm Irene shook the region last week.
With access to and information about help around Windham County rapidly changing since the storm, Brattleboro officials wanted to offer as much new data and resources as possible to a packed crowd of more than 50 residents in the Municipal Center.
The meeting gave Brattleboro officials the opportunity to release new tax abatement information, as well as information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration's disaster assistance office.
"We've had quite a few people ask about the tax abatement process," said Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag.
According to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, a tax abatement differs from an appeal because the subject of the hearing is about taxes and not the property assessment.
"Abatement is a statutory process of relieving taxpayers from the burden of paying property taxes when the abatement board ... agrees that the request is reasonable and proper," she said. "It is there to help a taxpayer who faces extraordinary circumstances in paying their taxes."
To request a hearing before the Board for the Abatement of Taxes, a taxpayer must file a written request with the clerk and list the grounds on which the request is based.
"It's a pretty simple process. It's just a matter of filling out the form," Cappy said. "You basically fill that form out stating who you are and how to contact you, and that's very important. I know a lot of you may not be living in your homes right now, so we need to be able to contact you and let you know when there will be a meeting."
She anticipates any tax abatement meeting will likely take place in October. A granted abatement could come in the form of a refund or credit for the following payment.
Board members will schedule a meeting and the taxpayer will receive a written notice of the date and time approximately two-to-three weeks prior to the hearing date. Those who wish not to appear at the abatement hearing may submit their request in writing to the board.
The abatement board is made up of 15 Justices of the Peace, the Selectboard, three members of the Board of Listers and the town's treasurer and clerk. All decisions by the board are final.
For more information about the process or to request an abatement form, Brattleboro residents may contact Cappy at 802-251-8129 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FEMA has sent 33 field agents to the county in an effort to complete inspections in a timely manner. The agency said the inspections take less than an hour and are currently experiencing a quick turnover time after a request is made.
The goal is to "get help to people as quickly as possible," said FEMA Public Information Officer Denise Worhach. "FEMA has approved more than $4.3 million in disaster assistance. We're mainly talking housing grants so far for the state of Vermont. We've had more than 2,000 people in Vermont call and register for assistance with FEMA, and that includes 284 people in Windham County, and I'd like to see that number go up."
To register with FEMA, call 800-621-3362 or visit the agency's website (www.fema.gov). The officials will request a social security number, a contact number, a description of the damages and insurance information.
Agency representatives say homeowners should register with FEMA even if they have insurance. The disaster assistance grants are for home repair, rental and temporary housing assistance and personal property replacement.
"Now when we say disaster assistance, we're mainly talking grants from FEMA and low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration," Worhach said. "So we got grants for homeowners and renters, and then we have low-interest faster loans for homeowners, renters and business owners."
Garth McDonald with the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance said they offer low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and businesses as a primary source of money to pay for repair or replacement costs not fully covered by insurance or other compensation.
The administration had working capital (Economic Injury Disaster) loans to small businesses and most private, nonprofit organizations. Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence, while renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property.
To apply for SBA disaster loan funds, residents must first register with FEMA. To request an application, contact the SBA at 800-659-2955.
For both FEMA and the SBA, residents may visit the disaster recovery center at the Nelson Withington Skating Facility in Living Memorial Park.
Other Helpful Information
-- The website www.windhamstatus.wordpress.com offers up-to-date access to the emergency situations around the county.
-- Sondag said the town has received donations of cleaning kits and medical masks and gloves for residents to clean their properties. They are available at Brattleboro's fire stations. The town is also reordering emergency weather radios.
-- While most of Brattleboro's roads are open, crews continue to fortify several streets.
Sondag said highway employees are working on Ames Hill Road and have moved traffic from Route 9 to Hamilton Road.
"If you don't have to go there, don't," she said.
Williams Street is also closed for some time because the town wants to construct a permanent bridge and not a temporary one. Flat Street will likely reopen in a few days once businesses are able to clean out their storefronts.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.
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