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State officials write letter to President urging FEMA to return

By GARY LIBERATORE

HERKIMER, N.Y. (WKTV) - Four upstate senators have banded together to try and help the constituents in their districts affected by the recent flooding get some financial relief.

Senators James Seward (51st Senate District), Joe Griffo (47th Senate District) , David Valesky (53rd Senate District) and Hugh Farley (49th Senate District) together sent a letter to President Obama asking for an additional assessment by FEMA on the flood damage here in Upstate New York.

Seward and Griffo held a press conference Friday afternoon at the Village of Herkimer firehouse to make that announcement and more.

Seward says it is imperative that the government come to the aid of those here in our area, "to ensure that the long term costs of these devastating floods do not overwhelm our local governments, our homeowners and business people."

An example that the damage was not limited to home and business owners could be seen right inside the Herkimer Fire House where the press conference took place on Friday.

One of Herkimer's fire trucks was badly damaged on the first night of the flooding back on June 27.

Herkimer Fire Chief John Spanfelner says the estimate on the repair cost is not in yet, but describes what caused the extensive damage.

"Where the garage was washed across the road on German Street, the slab of cement from the floor was laying on German Street," Chief Spanfelner said. "The water washed over it and the firefighters didn't know it was there, and it did a lot of undercarriage damage that we're just finding more and more of."

Chief Spanfelner is hoping that FEMA aid will help cover what the village's insurance doesn't.

The four senators are asking the president to have FEMA come back for a second time and do a more thorough assessment before making a final decision.

Senator Griffo says he hopes a second assessment would make the difference when it comes to exceeding the threshold for FEMA aid to kick in.

"We look at how the IRS is wasting money on conferences, we look at what we're doing in foreign aid," Senator Griffo said. "We can help our communities here. Even if we don't meet the threshold, they have a duty and obligation to step forward and help us."

Herkimer County Legislative Chairman Vincent Bono was also at Friday's press conference.

He says FEMA has been called in a second time in the past, and he is hoping that is the case this time.

"Back in 2011, after Hurricane Lee, Herkimer County experienced some damage," Chairman Bono said. "During the initial assessment that was brought forth, we didn't make the cut. We petitioned the federal government to come back, and with a subsequent survey, we did meet that threshold."

The senators also have written a letter to Governor Cuomo to hold a 'Flood Summit' with the appropriate commissioners, state representatives, first responders and local elected officials to address current flooding problems and to prevent future flooding.

Griffo says it's time for such a gathering.

"We've had summits on a number of things, related to business and economics, and we also have to look at this from a natural type of occurrence, that is unfortunately happening too often," Griffo said.

Finally the senators have come up with a package of legislation they would like to see passed to help current and future flood victims.

Seward says the key point of the legislation is to set up a state emergency relief fund to help disaster victims in New York State when FEMA doesn't kick in.

The legislation would also give homeowners and businesses a refundable state income tax credit against property taxes paid where homes and businesses have suffered damage that reduces their value.

Both Seward and Griffo say they are hoping that if there is a special session of the legislature called in the coming months, their proposals could be taken up later this year.

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