COUNCIL CLEANUP

South St. Joseph Resident Shannon Hutcherson listens in the City Council Chamber on Monday after raising concerns over the financial and health issues that have been caused by recent flooding in her area.

The St. Joseph City Council passed an emergency ordinance to provide some relief to South St. Joseph residents affected by recent flooding, and could be looking into more ways to help after a long discussion with citizens.

A unanimous vote on Monday approved a $22,000 allocation from the city’s Cellphone Program budget to provide debris removal, transportation assistance and portable restroom facilities for those affected by by the Contrary Creek flood. The item also waives landfill tipping fees, dumpster placement fees and bus fees.

Council Member Brian Myers brought up several other ways the city could help as suggested by those who live in the area and called him. These include the waiving of other fees, including sewer user fees, which are charged based on water consumption.

Mayor Bill McMurray said those fees can be waived for those who were affected since they will be using water to clean up their properties, which won’t actually be going into the sewer system. He said people in that situation can call the sewer billing department at 816- 271-4773.

“We have a sewer department here in City Hall, so just call,” McMurray said. “If there’s a problem, call the mayor’s office and let me help. We’ll get on it.”

The mayor’s office can be reached at 816-271-4640.

Permit fees for building and construction also have been waived for those repairing their homes due to flood damage.

Shannon Hutcherson, a South St. Joseph resident who works in health care, spoke at length to the council about numerous issues that she has had, and some brought up by her neighbors.

Huthcherson’s home was filled with nearly 5 feet of water last week and she lost nearly everything she owns. She is in the process of taking out the walls and carpet now to prevent the spread of dangerous mold.

She said the biggest help for them at this time would be boots-on-the-ground volunteers.

“Get someone in the homes to help us muck them out, to put on the boots and come and help us because we’re doing all we can do with little manpower and, most of us down there, we still have to work and we’re trying to do this around working,” Hutcherson said.

She said she also has concerns about community health due to possibly harmful substances in the floodwaters.

“With Hawkins (gas station) being so close to my home and the other gas station that was affected by the flood, all that fuel went into the water,” Hutcherson said. “We were walking in that water, volunteers were walking in that water and our firefighters were.”

She also said electric and gas utilities were not shut off in a timely manner, and volunteers who went back to her home to rescue her cat noticed sparks flying inside her home.

McMurray said the city has been working on cleanup, but will be increasing those efforts.

“Cleanup is continuing and we have lots of city crews helping,” McMurray said. “They’re down there today digging ditches on Parker Road. So, they’ll be continuing doing that. We’re just going to try and get as many people as we can off some other jobs and down there to assist.”

He said the city is offering free tetanus shots for those who may need them, and he has been in contact with the governor’s office, as well as the offices of other state leaders. He hopes to find emergency funding through the state and, if an emergency is declared by Gov. Mike Parson, the Air Guard could be used to help with cleanup.

Part of the area can receive CDBG funds for relief, but much of the area is at a higher flood risk and cannot be allocated those funds. Hutcherson was upset to discover she could not qualify for such funds and the flood maps of the area have not been updated since the mid-1980s.

The United Way is working with multiple agencies, churches and individuals to find housing and help for those who lost their homes during the flood.

Those who need housing are encouraged to call them at 816-362-2381.

Brendan Welch can be reached at brendan.welch@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.