From the Record:
Hurricane or not, Irene is on track to becoming one of the most expensive natural disasters in North Jersey’s history, with preliminary estimates from the region’s municipal governments totaling in the tens of millions of dollars, public records show.
With damage yet to be tallied in many of the hardest-hit towns, Bergen County’s public agencies had reported more than $19.3 million in damaged public buildings, buckled roadways, garbage pickup and other government expenses by late last week, according to numbers compiled by The Record. And those costs will be at least partly passed onto residents and taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes, service cuts or loss of use to public facilities that are not immediately repaired, officials in several towns said.
The estimated damage amounted to nearly $42 million in Passaic County — where half of the costs were in Paterson and tallies were almost certain to rise because they had been calculated while many roadways were underwater, Passaic County officials said.
Those costs are in addition to the $199.8 million in damage to business and private properties reported so far in Bergen and Passaic counties. All costs will likely change as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials visit local governments to compile official tallies starting this week.
“This is a catastrophic loss for all the government agencies in the county, and the citizens as well,” said Sgt. Barry Leventhal of the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management. He added that state and federal officials would work with municipalities to minimize the impact to taxpayers and private homeowners.
State and federal officials said they were doing everything they could to help local governments recover, but some officials said they were skeptical of receiving enough money to completely buffer taxpayers from the burden of paying for the storm.
Local officials said the state’s committed contribution fell far below the help they received after Floyd in 1999.
That year, the state contributed $20 million in aid for residents and businesses, $20 million for counties and $10 million for programs to reduce the possibility of future floods.
Without that kind of help, officials in some of the hardest hit towns said they would have no choice but to prioritize repairs, consider sharp cutbacks on spending or turn to property owners to make up the difference.
“It’s going to mean higher taxes,” said Rochelle Park Mayor Joseph Scarpa, whose town has reported more than $800,000 in municipal damage from Irene, a figure that did not include debris removal.
“If we’re not getting the money from insurance or FEMA where else are we going to get the money from?” Scarpa said.