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If the Federal Emergency Management Agency revised its maps tomorrow, Taylorsville — at least the area inside the levee — would be declared a flood zone.
That map likely won’t come tomorrow, but levee commissioners Bobby Smith, Joan Smith and Mike Driscoll and secretary Lois Platt were told six weeks ago the map will come within the next six to 18 months.
That means Taylorsville and Spencer County, as a community, have four and a half to 16 and a half months to come up with a solution.
Currently, the area within the levee is labeled as a “Zone X.” It is protected by the levee and is not considered a flood zone.
Since 2008, the levee has been considered a “provisionally accredited levee,” but because the steps to accredit the levee have not been completed since that time, the area within the levee is at risk of being labeled a “Zone D,” which would be a flood zone with an undetermined risk.
The levee itself is not structurally deficient, but the process to accredit it has not been completed.
Flood zone — what does that mean?
If Taylorsville becomes a Zone D when the new FEMA maps are issued, any property owner inside the levee district who has a mortgage will be required to purchase flood insurance.
Currently only one Spencer Countian has flood insurance and she lives on the outside of the levee. About a year ago, Anna Whitaker spoke at a public meeting of property owners and shared her experience with flood insurance.
Whitaker explained that in addition to paying for typical homeowner’s insurance, she must also pay a yearly bill of over $1,100 for flood insurance and content coverage.
“Flood insurance doesn’t include contents,” Whitaker told those in attendance.
Having to pay for homeowners insurance, flood insurance and content coverage has brought Whitaker’s cost up to approximately $2,200 per year, she said.
Property owners can expect rates at least that high and likely much higher, especially for business owners.
Property values also likely will go down substantially.
“Property values will decrease to 40 to 70 percent of what it is now,” Driscoll estimates.
This in turn makes property more difficult to sell and less attractive to buy and would stymie any economic development, Bobby Smith said.
The levee commissioners met in mid-August with representatives from the Division of Water, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Salt River Electric, FEMA and the Department of Insurance. Spencer County Judge-Executive Bill Karrer and City Clerk Steve Biven also attended the meeting, which took place at the Division of Water in Frankfort.
At that meeting, officials were informed that they wouldn’t be granted any additional time and were at the mercy of FEMA’s mapping schedule.
Once the map is issued, another map mostly likely wouldn’t be issued for 10 years, Driscoll said.
So how did we get here?
In 2008, Mayor Don Pay and then-levee commissioner Gary Kehne signed a letter of agreement stating that they would provide documentation of adequate compliance with federal regulations.
That letter states, “We understand that this documentation will be required before July 17, 2010. This information will allow FEMA to move forward with the flood mapping for the City of Taylorsville, Kentucky. We fully understand that if complete documentation of compliance with [the federal regulation] is not provided within the designated timeframe of 24 months, FEMA will initiate a revision to the Flood Insurance Rate Map to redesignate the area as floodprone.”
However, according to a notification letter sent on June 30, 2010, that documentation had not yet been provided.
“If you are unable to submit the required data and documentation by July 17, 2010, or if the submitted data and documentation are determined to be inadequate, FEMA will initiate a map revision to de-accredit the levee system and map the impacted areas on the landward side of the levee system,” the notification letter reads. “These areas will be remapped as high-risk Special Flood Hazard Areas, designated Zone AE.”
Pay, who signed the agreement in 2008, said Friday that it’s easy for people to think that nothing has been done since 2008, but said that line of thought is wrong.
Plenty of work has been going on behind the scenes, Pay said.
Pay explained that when Congressman Ron Lewis went out of office in 2009, $750,000 in hazard mitigation monies had been earmarked for Taylorsville and its levee.
“That’s when they had earmarks,” Pay said.
When current Congressman Brett Guthrie came into office, Pay said he told Guthrie that if the money was still available, Taylorsville wanted it.
“Do not let it go,” Pay said he told Guthrie.
Pay said through discussions with Nancy Price, a government liaison with Kentucky Emergency Management, he became aware of $250,000 additional grant monies available and applied for those.
Pay said his thinking was that the $750,000 plus the $250,000 would be enough to make the necessary repairs not only to the levee, but also to the Houston Court area, which has been a flooding problem area for decades.
However, that combined $1 million cannot be used for accreditation of the levee or for deferred maintenance, Pay said.
The $1 million total grant is still awaiting approval at the FEMA offices in Atlanta.
Pay said the project was originally referred to as “the floodwall project,” but somewhere along the lines it became referred to as “the Houston Court project.” The emphasis got shifted, he said.
“It’s like the emphasis was on the side road when it should have been the main highway, the main project,” Pay said.
The total scope of the project still includes improvements and repairs to Houston Court and the levee, Pay said.
But again, those funds cannot be used toward accreditation. Pay said he did not know this at the time he applied for the funding, but learned of it during the grant application process when the grant was stalled in Frankfort for what he called “clearinghouse issues.”
Pay called the accreditation process an “unfunded mandate,” and recalled a meeting several years ago where 24 Kentucky cities, Taylorsville included, were told they were going to have to have their levees or flood walls accredited.
Pay said an option going forward could be to contact a number of those cities to see if they had gotten accredited.
“We can ask, ‘when did it happen?’ and ‘who did it?’” Pay said. “We need to network.”
The ‘best-case scenario’
Though the legal responsibility for the levee resides within the levee commission, the commission hopes the city and county governments will see the urgency and step in to help.
The levee commission currently operates on a budget of about $6,200 each year. Those monies are collected through taxes, which are assessed on property within the levee district.
However, that $6,200 is hardly enough to keep the levee mowed, Driscoll said.
Tax rates in the levee district haven’t been raised in years and even members of the commission haven’t been able to pinpoint how the rates are determined from property owner to property owner.
Driscoll and Joan Smith said they have received word that the commission can increase the levee taxes by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value, but even that — with a 100 percent collection rate, which doesn’t happen — would only bring in about $60,000 each year.
Hiring a company to perform the inspection needed to start the journey toward accreditation will cost approximately $200,000. That price does not include the cost of any repairs that are pointed out during the inspection.
The first step is to find a source of funding, the commissioners say.
HUD loans, grants and bond issuances are all options, but they are all options that can take up to two years to receive and that’s more time than the commission has to work with.
“We’ve waited way too long to get this started,” Driscoll said.
It should be noted that Bobby Smith is serving his second one-year term as a levee commissioner. Joan Smith and Driscoll were elected commissioners in April.
The best-case scenario for procuring funding is the following, Driscoll says:
•The county and city find a way to put up the $200,000.
•The levee taxes are increased the full amount.
•The levee commission uses a portion of the tax increase to pay back the $200,000 to the city and the county over the course of six to eight years.
As of last week, the levee commission planned to get on the agenda for next week’s Fiscal Court and City Commission meetings to discuss the situation with each board.
Though Judge-Executive Karrer attended the Aug. 12 meeting in Frankfort with the levee commission, the results of that meeting were not shared with the county’s magistrates. Contacted individually, none of the magistrates said he had been advised of the meeting.
Multiple messages left for Karrer had not been returned as of press time.
Magistrates Mike Moody, Hobert Judd, Jerry Davis, Woodie Cheek and David Goodlett each said they would be open to hearing from the levee commission and open to seeing what the county could do to help.
“I’m open to listening and seeing what it is we have to do,” Davis said. “With the money situation being the way it is, who knows what we can or can’t do.”
Goodlett recalled attending levee meetings held last year and said he understands the gravity of the situation.
“I realize and know, and knew at that time, that it’s serious,” he said. “I would do whatever I could, and I said it at that meeting.”
Judd said he would make an attempt to meet with Bobby Smith before the Fiscal Court meeting on Monday to be better informed.
Mayor Pay said Friday that he was not made aware of the meeting in Frankfort, but knows this is an issue that affects the city and the county and said he would welcome the levee commission to a meeting for an update.
Commissioners Jack Proctor and Ellen Redmon said the same.
Proctor said the issue has been ongoing for six or seven years and he remembers discussions taking place during his first term as a commissioner.
“Every time we get things lined up to make some progress, they change the rules and it gets more complicated,” he said.
Redmon, who has seen firsthand multiple times the affects of flooding at her home on Houston Court, said this is an issue that needs to be solved.
“If we can’t get this fixed, who’s going to be able to remain within city limits?” she asked.
Redmon said she would like to see the community come together and take ownership of the levee.
Calls to commissioners Beverly Ingram and Kathy Spears were not returned as of press time.