The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Long line of people want buyouts, but City Hall frantic to find 51 owners of the first 192 buyout properties; number down to 34 by Thursday afternoon

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser, Kris Gulick on January 15, 2009 at 7:00 am

More than 1,200 property owners in Cedar Rapids have signed up to have their flood-damaged properties bought out by City Hall.

And the city figures there are at least that many properties that are too damaged to be fixed.

Yet in the first, most-certain piece of the city’s buyout plan, City Hall can’t find 51 owners of the first 192 properties slated for buyout. By Thursday afternoon, the number had dropped to 34.

These are the properties for which the city is seeking Flood Mitigation Grant Program funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the purchases, and it is a program that requires approval of the owner for the buyouts.

The city must submit its application for the FEMA money by Jan. 30.

And not being able to find owners means the city won’t be able to garner these FEMA funds for the purchases of those owners’ properties. These are properties that are unoccupied, likely far too damaged to repair and, in any event, are between the Cedar River and the proposed new system of levees and flood walls and so won’t be protected against future flooding.

It was a fairly odd sight at Wednesday evening’s council meeting: Council members were realizing that the city might get stuck with the bill of buying or at least demolishing properties for which FEMA is likely to pay money if owners can be found.

 “I’m extremely nervous,” council member Chuck Wieneke said Wednesday night about the city’s inability to find the owners of the first properties slated for buyout.. “… Guess whose hook it’s going to be on” if they aren’t found, he added.

He and other council members asked city staff Wednesday to take additional steps to find those 51 property owners. By Thursday, the city had only 34 to find, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator, told the council.

The city has published addresses of the properties involved, and council member Kris Gulick asked if the city ought to publish the names of the owners of the properties as well.

City Manager Jim Prosser said he would have to check about that – but the owners’ names are public record and are available on the City Assessor’s Web page.

The city’s Pratt suggested Wednesday that additional properties can be added to the city’s FEMA application until the date of the FEMA award, and she said other funds or a later application to FEMA might secure money for buyouts for which the owners have not yet been found.

However, the council asked that city staff work to find more owners by Jan. 30.

Pratt said owners who haven’t been found are apt to include people who have walked away from homes and out-of-state mortgage companies.

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