A resolution unanimously passed by the Brick Township council Tuesday night will allow the township to hire contractors to go onto private property in order to demolish homes and clear debris from Superstorm Sandy.
The township will participate in FEMA's Private Property Debris Removal, or PPDR, program without placing liens on residents' properties – the main crux of a debate on the issue that carried on for hours at a council meeting this week.
The power of the resolution is expected to be used to clear debris produced by blocks of burnt, destroyed homes in the Camp Osborn neighborhood. It can also be used anywhere else in town where homes need to be demolished.
The township's participation in the program was the subject of an hours-long discussion at the Feb. 5 township council meeting, where officials and members of the public debated whether liens should be placed on storm victims' homes before the demolition takes place.
Under the PPDR program's regulations, the township has two options.
The first option involves demolishing a home and clearing debris, then obtaining the standard FEMA reimbursement of 75 percent of the cost of the project, followed by collecting the remaining 25 percent from the homeowner's insurance company.
A second option involves placing a lien on the resident's property for 100 percent of the project costs, performing the work, but returning the amount reimbursed by FEMA due to the fact that the lien had been placed. In essence, the township would have performed the work and placed the lien, and it would be up to the property owner to pay the lien back.
The first option, some feared, would leave the township open to footing 25 percent of a demolition bill if a homeowner did not have home insurance, but the latter option also had its drawbacks, including a hardship for residents without the money to tear down a destroyed home and the impact to the community that could be caused by uninhabitable homes remaining standing. Additionally, if liens were not settled for decades – what some say is a strong possibility since homes sometimes remain in families for years – the township would have to wait a virtual eternity to collect any money back from its expenditure.
There is no option in the PPDR program, Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said, to simply place a lien on a home for the 25 percent portion, or the portion that is not covered by a resident's insurance company.
In all cases, a resident's participation in the PPDR program is subject to an extensive review by township officials and FEMA, including an on-site visit by a FEMA employee.
The township council first placed a resolution on its meeting agenda that would implement the program without liens, however at the last minute, a decision was made in the council's Business and Finance Committee to change the terms and place liens on all properties that participate.
Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis was the first person to speak out against placing liens, strongly objecting to going "the lien route."
"I am absolutely astounded," he said. "We can get the money from FEMA. And if we don't have the lien, we can keep that [money]. I think we should do what's best for the entire town. I can tell you that everybody will be affected by the hurricane when it comes to home values."
"I'm not in favor of putting a lien on anybody's property," said Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni, who reminded council members that a lien would go on a resident's credit report until it was fully paid.
Acropolis said he is still hopeful that Gov. Chris Christie's request for FEMA reimbursements to be raised to 90 percent will be granted by the federal government, further reducing the township's potential financial exposure.
Cipriani said the program is designed to help residents who may not have enough insurance coverage to tear down a home, and to help the town as a whole recover as a result.
"We really did try various scenarios where we could try to record [a lien for] the municipal portion only, and that simply is not possible," she said.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting supported a no-lien plan, but some disagreed.
"Hey, I live on the water," said resident Vic Fanelli. "But because someone else didn't have home insurance or flood insurance, or whatever they were supposed to have, I have to pay for it? I have to pay for my own insurance and subsidize someone else? This is not going to be an easy one."
But resident Nan Coll disagreed.
"We need to help the people who were so severely damaged," she said. "We're lucky we didn't have more loss of life, but people were destroyed by this. If my taxes go up a little because of this, so be it."
In the end the council unanimously passed the no-lien option following Acropolis' objection.
A day after the meeting, Acropolis said the township is developing a list of residents who may want to participate. Residents looking to demolish their homes should come to the township as they normally would to obtain permits, and they will be given more information on the PPDR program.