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May 12, 2008
Corinth Village Residents,
On February 11, 2008, Corinth suffered the worst fire it had seen in decades and it occurred in the heart of our downtown. Television news covering the fire stated that a “tooth was now missing in Corinth’s smile”.
The morning after the fire our Village Board contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the NYS Emergency Management Office (SEMO) who sympathized with our plight but stated that this loss, though devastating for Corinth, did not qualify for Federal or State disaster funding. We called on Senator Farley, Congresswoman Gillibrand, and Assemblywoman Sayward looking for advice and assistance. Representatives from the NYS Department of Housing and Community Renewal (who award and oversee our State & Federal grants) also visited Corinth the very next morning and informed us of ways that the state might be able to help us by using the remaining balance of the Federal and NYS funds that we had already received in our current Downtown Revitalization Grants by amending the grant to include a new activity called “Slum and Blight Spot”. In addition, HUD advised us that we could commit a portion of our HUD Revolving Loan Fund that has been used to fund new business development in Corinth if necessary. The solutions that DHCR recommended allowed us to use Federal and State moneys to supplement the owner’s insurance and were supported by our Senator, Assemblywoman and Congresswoman. After weeks of paperwork needed to make this happen, we finally have our approvals in place.
At our Village board meeting on May 7, we held a Public Hearing to hear public comment on our Village Board’s proposed amendment to our grants. We heard from 19 residents who were all opposed to this amendment. Our board postponed any decision that night and has scheduled a special meeting this Wednesday, May 14, at the Corinth Firehouse to have our Village Attorney advise the Village Board on all options available to us to effect the cleanup.
At the public hearing on May 7, we heard from several residents who objected based on an analogy that grant money would not be used if their home burned down. The difference is that these buildings were the centerpiece of our downtown and have a huge economic impact on our Village. We also heard from some residents who felt that there were better ways to spend our grant money. I have to disagree. Being in the heart of our business district, it is in the best interests of our community to get them rebuilt and reoccupied with viable businesses as soon as possible. It is also important to note that we have already committed the majority of our previous $850,000 grant awards to other business and residential renovations. In addition, our Village has grant applications pending for the next round of funding due out later this year for both residential and commercial grants totaling 1.25 million dollars. While these awards are not guaranteed, we believe our chances are good.
Our grant consultant said it best: “Getting rid of the demolition is just the first step, rebuilding is our goal.” At today’s costs of well over $100 dollars a square foot to rebuild, replacing these buildings as they were would cost in the millions and as with most commercial buildings, they were not insured to full replacement cost. Using this grant money helps to bridge some of that gap and the agreement worked out with the property owners allows us to award the moneys for cleanup, but is also written with strong incentives to rebuild. The grant money awarded will become a mortgage against each property that must be repaid, unless the property owner rebuilds within 18 months. This is similar in the way our grants work for renovation, if the property owner continues to own his building for at least 5 years after renovations are complete, he need not pay back the grant. Remember, these are grants, not just loans. What better incentive can we give someone to rebuild and not just take the money and run? I hope you agree with me that the plan we have developed to amend our current Federal and NYS Grants to enable both downtown clean up and rebuilding, without us having to commit local Village funds, is the best plan and the sooner we get started the better.