Editorial

Editorial: We'll all be paying for Sandy

Houses on Fire Island Avenue in Babylon Village

Houses on Fire Island Avenue in Babylon Village are flooded due to superstorm Sandy sweeping through Long Island. (Oct. 30, 2012) (Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz)

Even if you didn't get walloped by Sandy, you're going to get walloped by Sandy. And probably in a whole variety of ways.

Once the superstorm had passed it was easy to see the different levels of damage. Some people had no problems, save the inconvenience of a few days without power. Others lost trees and had minor household losses -- frustrating and expensive, but no tragedy. But there were also those who faced real devastation: homes destroyed and uninhabitable, businesses no longer operable, lives in shambles.

Now comes the parceling out of the financial pain. It's going to cost every taxpayer on Long Island, in our state, and even in the nation, something. How much it will sap us locally depends, at least partially, on how good a job municipal administrators, and even the individuals affected, do of filling out their paperwork, applying for aid, documenting losses and keeping up with records.


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And some property owners may end up paying more because they sustained no damage.

Those who took a serious hit will likely get breaks on their property taxes. That's fair: An uninhabitable home has less value than a habitable one. To deal with this, state lawmakers have proposed a law allowing municipalities to readjust already-set tax rolls to reflect damage. They passed a similar law last year after Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. But this would mean less revenue for those governmental entities.

Part of that can be covered by a FEMA program that allows taxing bodies to borrow up to $5 million each to make up for loss of revenue due to disasters, and repay it over five or 10 years. But losses of revenue beyond $5 million could only be made up by increasing the burden on other owners. When some property owners have assessments lowered and pay less, others pay more.

It's impossible to say, this early, how much local taxpayers will have to pay for Sandy. Claims and funding requests on Hurricane Katrina kept coming for more than five years. But competence on the part of our administrators, as well as attention to every detail and form by private individuals, can hold that local burden down.

Getting aid after a natural disaster is a harrowing process. FEMA holds seminars on the paperwork not just for property owners but also for officials. Even the pros need professional help.

To keep the local impact manageable, municipalities, school districts and the like must use this help to wrangle every penny of reimbursement they have a right to. Those well-managed enough to have cash reserves will probably need to use them: This is the rainy day such funds are meant for. Those that must borrow need to make sure they incur the lowest possible costs, through bond anticipation notes but also through those FEMA loans for lost revenue.

And every individual who had damage must document it and make sure their information is included in local totals. Just as a community suffers when it's undercounted in the census, or a school district loses funding when eligible families don't apply for reduced-cost meals, Long Island will lose out if any losses aren't reported.

To help make sure they are, FEMA needs to relax artificially quick filing deadlines that could make it impossible for people, businesses and communities to get the help they need and deserve.

We're a tough, resilient region, and we'll find a way to pay our share, and rebound from Sandy. Let's just make certain our share isn't a penny larger than it needs to be.

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