Sandy repair costs to worsen Long Beach budget woes

Private crews have been carting to many areas Private crews have been carting to many areas in Long Beach, including this at the Town of Hempstead Beach parking lot at Lido. (Nov. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

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The cost of repairing damage wrought by superstorm Sandy will exacerbate Long Beach's considerable financial woes, city leaders say.

The city, which saw its boardwalk, sewer system and downtown business district damaged by Sandy, is looking at total costs of more than $200 million.

City Manager Jack Schnirman estimated Wednesday the city could be on the hook for about $12.5 million under Federal Emergency Management Agency cost-sharing rules. The city -- which approved 14.5 percent in tax increases this year that will allow it to pay down a $10.25 million deficit over three years -- can't afford such a bill, he said.

Schnirman and other city officials said they will scour state and federal sources for assistance to bridge the gap.

But prospects are daunting, said City Council president Len Torres, adding that the $200 million "makes the $10 million that we were in deficit look like a playground. In a lot of ways, I'm nervous."

Long Beach has an annual budget of $88 million, less than half the cost of Sandy's damage to the city.

Two-and-a-half weeks after the storm, city streets remain littered with debris and trashed household belongings. But signs of normalcy are slowly returning -- businesses have begun to reopen downtown, and a mandatory evacuation notice was rescinded Wednesday. And limited LIRR service is back.

FEMA is working with the city to help pay for the damages, said John Mills, an agency spokesman. FEMA pays for portions of work such as debris removal -- including 100 percent of associated labor costs -- and infrastructure repairs, he said.

"FEMA is committed to working with Long Beach and all other affected communities to understand what is eligible and what is not," Mills said.

Similarly, the state can try to provide relief, but Albany "can't create money," said Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach).

Despite the city's tenuous fiscal state, "we will need to address the financial challenge that this natural disaster presents to the city," said Schnirman, adding that the city is "at the beginning of this process."

He declined to speculate how much Long Beach taxpayers might eventually have to shoulder.

For now, the city needs to work closely with state and federal governments to make sure it gets every dime of aid possible, said City Councilman John McLaughlin.

"We can get out of our fiscal woes if they help us get out of these woes that this catastrophic hurricane brought," McLaughlin said.

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