Hancock Co. leaders hoping for FEMA loan forgiveness

By Al Showers - bio | email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Local governmental leaders across the Coast are hoping they are closer to having the Community Disaster Loans they received after Hurricane Katrina forgiven.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has proposed communities be relieved of the responsibility of having to pay the money back to the federal government. It's a move leaders in two of Katrina's hardest hit areas say they are banking on.

A police and fire department, public works and a clerical staff are just some of what it takes to run a city. But those services become threatened when your main source of income to operate, sales taxes, are cut off by a hurricane like Katrina.

"Remember, in the city of Waveland, we lost all of our commercial businesses. So we were without any income for a year," Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo said.

"What were the loss of revenues here? We're talking about sales tax, gaming revenues, franchise fees, permit and licensing fees, things of that nature. We had a pretty substantial loss after the storm," Bay St. Louis' Director of Administration Buz Olsen said.

Shortly after Katrina, the federal government offered struggling governments along the coast Community Disaster Loans to supplement lost revenues.

"It was necessary for us for the survival of the city," Olsen said.

"That money basically kept us afloat till we began getting some income in," Mayor Longo said.

Bay St. Louis and Waveland leaders borrowed about $3 million each. They say forgiveness of the loans is vital to recovery.

"What it means to us is that we will get back to our pre-Katrina debt level," Olsen said.

"The money is not sitting there waiting to start paying the bill back," Mayor Longo said.

The rules are being formulated to apply for loan forgiveness, and the Department of Homeland Security is seeking public comments on them.

"There is no doubt that the city of Waveland will be able to prove the necessity for the forgiveness," Mayor Longo said.

"We're feeling very positive about our position for making our case for forgiveness," Olsen said.

To view the proposed forgiveness procedures, click here or visit www.regulations.gov and search for FEMA-2005-0051. While you're there, you can submit a comment or email fema-rules@dhs.gov.

Comments will also be accepted in writing to:

FEMA's Office of Chief Counsel
Room 835
500 C Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20472

Comments will be taken through May.

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