After the worst winter for Moscow and Latah County in about 20 years, Latah County Commissioners have officially declared a disaster.
The commissioners held a meeting March 13 to discuss the issue and get reports from the county’s Disaster Services and Highway Commissioners regarding the damages.
As a result of the declaration, the commissioners ultimately hope to receive state or federal aid in the form of supplies and equipment or financial support for the damage repairs.
“Possible relief is available if we first take this step of making a disaster declaration,” said Tom Lamar, chair of the Latah County Commission.
As chair, Lamar is the only official, besides a mayor within proper jurisdiction, who has the authority to make the declaration.
Lamar and the other County Commissioners, Richard Walser and Dave McGraw were supportive of the declaration and the possibility of providing assistance to the county.
“I am very much supportive of trying to figure out how to provide relief to all the districts that have been damaged,” Lamar said.
He said it is important to make sure the commissioners and the county go through the process correctly in order to ensure the results are beneficial.
“I am very interested in seeing what we can do to help, I just want to make sure we do it in the right order and make sure we are doing it in a way that is going to produce the right results,” Lamar said.
In order to receive funding, Latah County must meet its specified FEMA Public Assistance Threshold of $134,451 needed for repairs and service during the disaster.
Kevin Renfrow, a chairman from the South Latah Highway District, said the district has paid for twice the usual amount of hours for snow removal.
“We’ve logged around $22,000 in overtime that we’ve paid for snow removal,” Renfrow said. “It’s a big hit to our budget.”
Another commissioner of the South Latah Highway District Howard Jones said the district has already exceeded the budget for the fuel cost of snow removal by $15,000.
In Moscow alone, an initial estimate of $300,000 in damage has been done to the city’s streets, according to the City of Moscow Public Works Department.
Mike Neelon, Latah County Disaster Services Coordinator, said the county has already used a third of the highway maintenance and repair budget allotted for the summer.
Between the overtime pay for service and damage repair costs to roads and bridges, the commissioners are certain the county will surpass its threshold.
The North Latah Highway Commission announced they had declared a disaster earlier in the week and sought funds. At Monday’s gathering, they urged the County Commissioners to follow suit and open the possibility of state or federal funding.
Now that the County Commissioners have made the declaration, the next step will be to formally submit it to the state. Once submitted to the state, it will go to the Deputy Chief of the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, who will make a recommendation to the governor. The governor will then make the decision of whether or not the state will accept the disaster declaration, thus allowing the county to be eligible for assistance.
The Idaho Office of Emergency Management estimates that the county will have to wait 120 days after the decision is made to receive any funding.
If Latah County is granted the aid, all of the funds, equipment and services will go to the repair of roads, bridges and other taxable facilities. The aid will not assist damage to individual households or private property.
Lamar said the commissioners, with the help of other county officials, plan to write up the formal declaration to send to the state March 15.
Kara Billington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @K_Billington3