Evergreen disputes DeKalb Co. flood damage report

Some residents say county’s assessment of homes is inaccurate

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Frank Santoro, owner of Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park in Sycamore, throws his hands up in frustration Friday while looking over homes that damaged by flood waters from the recent rains.

SYCAMORE – The owner of Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park is at odds with DeKalb County officials over the county’s assessment of the flood damage to properties in the trailer park.

On Wednesday, the county notified Evergreen residents that 39 trailers had been damaged 50 percent or more during the flooding that occurred earlier this month. Those trailers cannot be repaired unless the residents seek a permit from the county.

Evergreen Village owner Frank Santoro angrily disputed the county’s findings.

“None of these houses got damaged because no water got in them,” Santoro said. He demonstrated how the water level on a number of properties had not reached the floor level of any trailer. “It’s mind boggling.”

“These are people who are supposed to know what they’re taking about,” he said.

There did seem to be some confusion over what the county was doing among residents at the park. A plan to relocate the residents of the park with the help of a $4.2 million federal grant is under way. County officials say that it is this effort that makes it necessary for them to closely follow regulations.

Although Santoro said he doesn’t think county officials were fair, they were following standard protocol, said Paul Miller, the county’s planning, zoning and building director. When assessing damage, officials compare the estimated cost of the damage with the fair market value of the property.

If the amount of the damage is greater than 50 percent of the property’s
value, the occupants need a permit to make repairs. The permits cost $35.

“It has nothing to do with water getting into the trailer,” Miller said.

However, damage estimates can vary from one assessor to another, as Frank Howden knows.

Howden, who lives in a trailer at lot C-11 in the park, said his trailer initially was estimated to be 74 percent damaged by the floods, but after he raised issues with the report, a second assessor came to survey his property.

The second assessment dropped that number to around 25 percent.

“We are very confident,” Howden said about his trailer. “We’ve had water this high before, and it doesn’t even affect electricity.”

Miller said the county’s damage assessors use a checklist provided to them by Federal Emergency Management Agency because they participate in a national flood insurance program.

Miller said the assessors do a visual inspection of the property, and then they use a formula to calculate the apparent cost of the damage, along with the trailer’s condition and age.

“We do a visual inspection,” Miller said. “If we note the skirting has been pulled back, we may identify 75 percent of it needs to be replaced.”

Miller added that the assessors are not allowed inside trailers, nor are they allowed to ask to enter them.

Aside from requesting a second county assessment, residents can also hire their own qualified inspector or appraiser, and the county will accept the report of that individual, Miller said. He said that the county does not have the resources to penalize village residents for repairing their trailers without county permits, but he is trying to balance obligations with the residents’ needs.

“We have a lot of sympathy for the residents out there,” Miller said.

Miller said he understands why the Santoro is upset, but he said the county underwent similar processes at Evergreen Village in previous floods.

“In none of these cases did it place Mr. Santoro’sbusiness in jeopardy,” Miller said.

The biggest concern for the county is that it is preparing to buy the mobile home park with the help of that $4.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county has worked for years and spent thousands of dollars to prepare for the buyout.

“We need to show that we are following our regulations because we are preprating a project that will cost [millions] of federal money,” Miller said.

Miller said they are hoping for authorization in May to start the project.

“The county has done everything it can and everything it would to find alternative housing for these people,” Miller said. “We’re doing everything we can to help.”

Santoro said the county needs to move forward with the buyout if it has the money.

“It’s their fault because we’re here and it floods, and it might flood again,” he said.

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