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By Erin Smith

The Bladen County Board of Commissioners heard an update from Bladen County Planner Greg Elkins regarding flood damage data collection and the substantial damage assessment from Hurricane Florence.

Elkins told the board that following the hurricane, FEMA officials traveled to various parts of Bladen County and looked at all of the structures that were located in a known flood zone to determine if they were substantially damaged. Elkins said in order to qualify as substantially damaged, the structure must have suffered damage within 50 percent of the value of the structure.

“Out of 102 structures we looked at, one day last week I sent out 49 letters,” said Elkins.

He said the county participates in the National Flood Insurance program and one of the requirements of that program is for the County to notify property owners that their structure has been deemed to be substantially damaged.

Elkins said he has received phone calls from recipients of those letters asking what exactly is meant by the designation. He explained that the designation means if the owner is going to refurbish or rebuild the structure, it must meet all of today’s standards including elevation requirements for a flood plain.

“Some of the folks I’ve talked to have said, ‘We are not moving back. This is the third time we’ve been flooded,’” said Elkins.

He explained the goal of the National Flood Insurance program is to try to mitigate the issue and prevent it from happening again.

Commissioner Michael Cogdell asked if these houses were being added to the list created following Hurricane Matthew. Elkins replied at this point, they are not, but if future hazard mitigation funds become available, the owners potentially could apply.

Elkins added there were a lot of properties that flooded that were not in the flood plain. FEMA was only interested in those structures built in the flood plain.

“What resources are available for people who can’t afford to put these houses back?” asked Commissioner Cogdell.

“Hopefully, some of these same programs that became available after Hurricane Matthew will be available again. I’m not aware of any programs that have become available for Hurricane Florence,” said Elkins.

He also explained that if the owner does not comply with the criteria, they may not be eligible to receive any aid in future flood events.

In a second Hurricane Florence-related issue, the Bladen County Board of Education requested $140,000 from the Commissioners to compensate employees who worked in the emergency shelters. Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor told the board he had met with FEMA and learned that the school district and the Board of Commissioners must have an agreed upon Emergency Shelter Compensation policy in place in order for the district to be reimbursed.

“Florence was much worse (than Hurricane Matthew) in what we had to do as a county,” said Dr. Taylor.

He described the school district’s compensation issue with shelter employees.  Dr. Taylor explained that Bladen County Schools’ employees who earned overtime working in the shelters have not been compensated for that time.

“We have employees who worked in county shelters during an emergency situation and have not been compensated in what we feel is a fair way,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor said the school system has both exempt employees and non-exempt employees.
He noted there were compensation issues such as employees who earned overtime but that overtime ocurred in two separate pay periods during the hurricane leading to them not being fairly compensated. For example, an employee may have worked Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday and earned overtime for those days. However, Saturday would have started a new pay period thereby nullifying the overtime that would have been earned.

Dr. Taylor said they have learned that because there is no policy currently in place describing how employees are to be compensated for working in shelters, the school district can not apply to FEMA for reimbursement for overtime pay.

He said the Board of Education wants to work with the Commissioners to create a memo of understanding so hopefully, in the future, such situations can be avoided in the future. Dr. Taylor said one of the items to be included in the policy in addition to the compensation are the cost items such as food and water.

After further discussion, it was decided to take the matter to a committee to work on creating a shelter policy and memorandum of understanding.

The board unanimously approved a capital outlay request from the Board of Education in the amount $397,915.08.



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