Dodge County officially approved an agreement to create a water management advisory board with several other local governmental entities, including the city of Fremont.
The new board will address drainage issues and other water management vulnerabilities throughout the county. It was approved by the county board of supervisors on Wednesday.
The city of Fremont approved the agreement during an April 10 City Council meeting.
The idea for a coalition to address drainage and water management issues has long been in conception — even prior to last month’s historic flooding. City Administrator Brian Newton raised the idea of a partnership during a testimony to the county board last year, framing it as a way to address persistent drainage issues east of Fremont near the Elkhorn River, among other things. And officials say it was discussed years prior as well.
The partnership initially consisted of the city of Fremont, Dodge County, the village of Inglewood and the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District. It’s since been amended to include eight other entities: the city of North Bend, the Cotterell Diking and Drainage District, the Ames Diking and Drainage District, the North Bend Diking and Drainage District, Elkhorn Township, Platte Township, Sanitary and Improvement District No. 3 near Lake Ventura and Sanitary and Improvement District No. 5 near Timberwood.
The board will consist of two members from each entity.
According to county board Chairman Bob Missel, the board will help the region gain better leverage as it seeks to improve drainage issues and address issues brought in as a result of last month’s historic flooding. That includes in discussions with entities like the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages levees along area rivers.
“The idea of all this is that as we collaborate and come together, our voice becomes a little louder, because we’re a larger pool of governments,” Missel said.
The county board spent part of its’ Wednesday meeting discussing other flood-related issues as well.
FEMA NumbersBrenda Gustafson, an intergovernmental affairs specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provided an update to the board, as well as some numbers on the agency’s response in Dodge County so far.
FEMA is providing assistance to qualified homeowners who have incurred damage due to the flood.
As of the close of business on Tuesday, FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Center Dodge County had seen 562 survivors. That accounted for 28 percent of all registrations in the state, and averaged about 100 per week since opening earlier this month, Gustafson said.
Of those, 172 are repeats “which means people are getting their documentation together and coming back or are getting their denial letters and coming back and trying to research why they’re getting that.”
Meanwhile, the disaster survivor assistance teams that go door to door offering to register victims have visited 2,191 homes in the county, registering nearly 1,300 of those.
“They are winding down because they’ve visited almost every area … at least twice,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson also warned that residents who receive a letter from FEMA informing them that they are ineligible for funding should read the entire letter. Many people, Gustafson said, see that they’ve been denied funding and throw the letter away.
“The rest of the letter will tell you why, and oftentimes, they are fixable problems,” Gustafson said.
Anyone can appeal any FEMA decision as many times as desired, but appeals must be submitted in writing.
BondsCraig Jones, managing director of First National Capital Markets, discussed options for the county to secure bonds that will help pay for repairing county infrastructure damaged during the floods.
Given that a federal disaster has been declared for Dodge County, county officials anticipate that the federal and state government will reimburse a majority of the costs associated with flood damages — approximately 87.5 percent.
But that funding isn’t expected to be immediately available — potentially not for several years. And while the county has moved funding around in its budget to create a $4 million flood relief fund, it’s already spent more than a quarter of that and expects that costs will far exceed that amount.
Jones explained that determining how much money was needed was “a moving target,” as the county was assessing its own damages, but also trying to figure out the damages from its 14 townships. At the last board meeting, officials voted to enter into an agreement with its townships to front the costs of FEMA-eligible expenses incurred due to the flood.
The bond being discussed will likely be about $10 million. But there are options for how it will be structured, and the county needs to consider what will be most flexible.
Jones said discussions have focused on discussions of 5- and 10-year bonds, and two different options for the county to pay them back. The first option would be paying it back like any normal bond issue — with a fixed rate that assumes that outside assistance is never coming.
In a five-year bond, paying that back with interest would amount to $2.1 million per year, while a 10-year bond with interest would be a little more than $1 million per year. The county would be reimbursed whenever that money comes through.
Another option includes planning to pay off the bond at a rate calculated off of how much the county actually expects to pay after FEMA and state funding assistance is factored in.
So in a four-year scenario, the county would aim to pay off 12.5 percent of the $10 million with payments totaling $1.25 million per year. That would leave a “balloon” of more than $8 million left in the fourth year that would presumably be paid off by the federal and state assistance that will hopefully have come in at that point.
When Dodge County Clerk Fred Mytty said he thought putting a balloon at the end could be dangerous, Jones explained that they could also consider spacing those payments out over 10 years, with the balloon located at the end of that time period.
“If something changes and we don’t get the amount of funds we thought we were going to, we at least have a little more runway here to pay that back,” Jones said.
Supervisor Lon Strand said he’d feel more comfortable with a payment plan closer to 10 years as opposed to a five-year plan. Given the damage wreaked by last month’s flooding, he said, it was unclear how much the county’s valuation could change in the next few years, and how significantly that might affect tax revenue.
“We’re not going to know quite what the impact on the county is for a year or more because as some of this farm ground potentially goes away and isn’t productive, that valuation is going to change. Some of these houses are not going to be here anymore,” he said. “To jump into five years would be a little scary to me.”
The next step for the board, Jones said, was to meet with local financial institutions to further discuss options.
“I think another thing that would probably make sense in this scenario would be for us to have initial discussions with your local banking institutions and see what sort of support we can get locally to put something together that is the most flexible and the most efficient for the county in this situation,” Jones said.