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Leaders look for disaster relief

ST. PAUL — One of the first actions Minnesota legislators likely will take when they convene next month is approving nearly $9 million to help local governments pay for early-summer flooding that hit much of the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that $3 million legislators set aside for disaster needs has been spent with $8.7 million of local government needs unfunded. The state has promised to pay.

The federal government is paying $30.6 million to recover from the disaster, leaving the state with a $10.3 million bill for counties that received federal aid. For counties that get federal help, Washington pays 75 percent and the state 25 percent.

Washington, Morrison and Dakota counties did not qualify for federal help, so the state is paying 75 percent of their costs, $1.4 million. The counties are to pay the rest.

Legislative and governor’s office staff members meet early next week to work out details, but the governor said he does not expect a controversy.

“I don’t think there will be any questions in people’s minds that this is imperative,” Dayton said of the flood aid. “To me, it is pretty cut and dry.”

Cities, counties and other local governmental bodies, including American Indian governments, receive federal and state aid for repairs for flood damage and to pay for clean-up.

Usually for major disasters like happened last June, lawmakers return to a special session to appropriate needed money. Legislators set up the $3 million state disaster fund last session to avoid a special session. While it fell short of what was needed, state officials were able to delay payments and take other actions to avoid calling legislators back to St. Paul before their regularly scheduled session.

The federal government named 37 counties disaster areas, making them eligible for federal aid. Counties receiving federal help are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Hennepin, Jackson, Koochiching, La Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Ramsey, Redwood, Renville, Rice, Roseau, Rock, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca, Watonwan, Wright and Yellow Medicine.

Also eligible were the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Prairie Island Indian Community and the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.

Dakota ($1 million in damage) and Washington ($479,000) counties did not sustained enough damage to qualify for federal aid, but did meet the state threshold. Morrison County’s storm damage ($373,000) came before the federal disaster declaration began and was not eligible for Washington’s help.

Funds only are to help local governments recover from the floods, and will not be available to individuals and businesses.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.