Legislation seeks $2.6 million for tornado recovery


For nearly four years Coal City officials have been knocking on the doors of state lawmakers reminding them of the financial hardship a powerful tornado created when it torethrough the villae June 22, 2015.
At the time, state officials did not seek disaster relief funding from the federal government.  
Illinois State Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) heard the town’s call and last week filed legislation seeking $2.6 million to cover debt related to the town's cleanup and recovery efforts.
Coal City racked up millions of dollars in costs associated with immediate and long-term storm recovery. A detailed list of those costs were outlined in a damage assessment report submitted to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA).
The initial damage assessment cost included over $1.1 million for debris removal, $105,000 in emergency protective measures, $10.4 million in roadway damage, and close to $1 million for the repair and replacement of municipal utilities. Among all of the categories outlined, the village submitted a final damage assessment of nearly $13.1 million to the state agency.
As Welter points out, even thought the tornado resulted in damage to nearly one-third of the village's total housing stock, and required the complete reconstruction of 160 residential structures, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) did not recommend that the federal participation in the relief effort.
Coal City was forced to sell $6 million in alternative revenue bonds in 2015 to repair the hardest hit neighborhoods.
The first payment on that debt, $553,250, is to be paid this year, as village officials pushed back the payments to give residents time to rebuild and for the equalized assessed value of those properties to rebound.
In November 2018, despite efforts to find alternate sources of revenue, village trustees adopted a resolution allowing the alternative revenue bonds to be paid by property taxes, and property owners will see that on the tax bill that will come out in the next couple of months.
“The state's inaction denied Coal City the ability to obtain federal assistance for tornado cleanup and recovery. Coal City taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying these costs on their own,” Welter said. “The community has worked hard over the past four years to rebuilt and support families who lost their homes. We can help our neighbors in Coal City by approving this funding now,” said Welter, who was chairman of the Grundy County Board at the time.
State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst (R-Kankakee), who represents the area hardest hit, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“Coal City has gone through so much over these last four years rebuilding. It is long past time this funding is approved so residents can get the assistance they deserve,” Parkhurst said.
Welter's legislation, House Bill 3797, has been referred to the House Rules Committee, and will be considered during the ongoing state budget appropriation process this spring.
Trustee Neal Nelson, who chairs the board’s Finance Committee, reached out to State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields), who like Parkhurst, represents residents in the hardest hit areas.
“The people of our small community have shouldered the burden of the relief efforts without assistance from the federal or state government,” he reminded her.
In an e-mailed response shared with The Coal City Courant, Hutchinson pledge her support, noting she has signed on as co-sponsor of a bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Sue Rezin (R-Peru).
Rezin’s legislation, SB 1554, if approved, would amend the Illinois Income Tax Act to provide a tax credit to each taxpayer who owns qualified real property in a county, including Grundy and Will, that was declared a state disaster area by the governor due to tornadoes and flooding in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
“While I do not discount the devastation that has occurred in other areas of our state, I believe it is imperative the state step up and support Coal City residents who are in the unique position of being hit by two tornadoes in less than two years,” Hutchinson stated.
Adding in her correspondence there have been increased discussion by lawmakers on how to best provide relief to residents affected by natural disasters.
“In the weeks and months ahead, as these conversations continue, we must figure out how to balance the precarious financial situation the state of Illinois currently finds itself in with the need to ensure our residents have the resources to pickup the pieces of their lives and move on,” Hutchinson said.
SB 1554 was filed last month and assigned to the Revenue Committee.
If  Welter’s bill is passed and signed into law it would take effect on July 1. Rezin’s legislation would be immediate upon if approved and signed by the governor.