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State will offer $55 million in grants for victims of lake flooding, storm damage

ALBANY – Homeowners and businesses whose properties sustained damage from Lake Ontario flooding are in line for a share of $55 million in grants.

The state Legislature approved a flood relief package as part of an omnibus and policy package Thursday.

The omnibus bill also gave permission for 53 counties to maintain their existing sales taxes levels and approved a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rename the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River for his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The flood relief package is less generous – by $35 million – than the what both houses previously approved.  Lawmakers said Cuomo was uncomfortable spending the $90 million the Legislature approved nearly three months into the new fiscal year.

The package makes available $45 million in grants for homeowners, businesses, farms and not-for-profits affected by Lake Ontario flood-related damage that occurred between January 1 and August 31 this year.

For homeowners, businesses, farms, homeowner association and not-for-profits, the maximum award tops at a $50,000 – and the state will provide money only to cover damage costs after any other federal assistance or insurance coverage is exhausted. Officials were unable to provide an estimate for the number of properties that might be affected.

Lawmakers said they made additional homeowners eligible for assistance than what Cuomo proposed. They got language approved dropping maximum income levels for financial help for owners of primary residences, except for second homes, where people making over $275,000 are not eligible.

“I still think we ended up in a good spot,’’ said Sen. Robert Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican who pushed for the relief.

Ortt said lawmakers can always push for additional funds if the needs of flood victims are not met.

“I think this is a win for Lake Ontario property owners, for sure,’’ he said just prior to the Senate approval.

Lawmakers also OK'd $10 million for municipalities for a variety of flood repairs and mitigation efforts to cover a storm in 2015 in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties and flooding in Monroe County this year.

In other action:

Cuomo pushed lawmakers to re-name the Tappan Zee Bridge between Rockland and Westchester counties after his late father. The effort, privately and publicly, got considerable ribbing in the Legislature, including by people who worked with Mario Cuomo when he was governor. They noted a bridge named after him would have been the last thing the late governor would have wanted.

Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that three times during a press briefing Thursday afternoon.

“If you asked him if he would like a bridge named after him, he would say no,’’ the current governor said of his father.

He said the re-naming needed to be done now because the new $3.9 billion bridge replacing the existing Tappan Zee spans is set to open this August.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, poked fun of Cuomo’s bridge re-naming effort, noting “they’re going to charge $20 to get over it.’’

The final tolls have not yet been set.

Asked what he thought might be named some day for the current governor, DeFrancisco said, “I don’t think there is anything big enough that we could name for him.’’

 

Also approved:

  • Pension provisions for New York City police and fire department workers.
  • Bailout of a Mohawk Valley harness racetrack and permission for counties to continue existing sales tax levels.
  • Permission for for counties to continue additional sales taxes. For Erie County, the extra points are worth nearly $280 million annually.

“It’s not a trivial vote that took place,’’ Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said of the sales tax matter. He noted sales tax revenues, paid both by residents and visitors, help to keep down pressure on New York’s already high property tax levels. The additional sales tax levels – due to expire this fall – raise $1.8 billion for the counties, which in turn share a portion of the proceeds with nearly 400 local cities, towns, villages and school districts.

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