NEOSHO, Mo. — About 100 people on Monday night attended a public hearing organized by the city of Neosho to formally announce its intent to seek Community Development Block Grants. The grants would be used to buy properties from victims of flooding in 2017.
Many of those in attendance most likely left with questions about the buyout plan.
The Neosho City Council has already approved the creation of flood buyout zones, which will be considered for formal acceptance during its Oct. 15 meeting. Since May, the city has been collecting information and surveys from flood victims about their interest in a buyout — an interest that grew after many of the same areas flooded this past spring.
The deadline for submitting its application to the state is Oct. 29. In addition to the zones, the city must also approve other ordinances related to law enforcement's use of excessive force during nonviolent civil rights demonstrations and banning discriminatory housing practices.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development will determine the amount of the award the city can use for buyouts; it is expected to make that announcement before the end of 2019. Once it is determined that a grant has been awarded, a process of application for aid begins.
Until then, the many questions of flood victims will likely go unanswered.
"The mere fact that they are not getting the answers they want or need makes my heart break," said Mayor William Doubek. "I hear their concerns. They don't know if they will have money to buy another house, they are sitting there in a home destroyed by flood, they are trying to clean up best they can, but will that house be standing there in three years? Will they be forced out because of mold or mildew?"
Jill Cornett, executive director of the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, and Rachel Holcomb, director of economic development for the city of Neosho, heard questions about expected timelines, insurance issues and more.
One of the main concerns aired by victims dealt with property values.
Attendees were told that flood victims could expect offers for their property to be made at 2017's pre-flood valuation. If a victim received financial assistance from FEMA for recovering from 2017's flooding, that amount would be deducted from the buyout offer.
Deborah Wince, who lives on Riverside Drive, said that amount won't help her out, especially with how home values have increased since the flood.
"We have all had our houses fixed back up, but they are going to pay us what it was worth before the flood," Wince said. "We're going to end up having zilch. I can't buy another house with that."
During the meeting, Cornett and Holcomb said they could not speak for the state about such negotiations, but did say there would be negotiations. According to a handout provided to attendees, the steps for a buyout could take about three years, from grant acceptance to home demolition.
It would include an offer that the property owner could accept or reject. Those offers are hoped to take place sometime in 2020, according to the handout.
Those one-on-one negotiations are where property owners will likely get answers specific to their situation, said Doubek.
"I know they need answers now," Doubek said after the meeting. "We (the city) do too, but we have to wait for HUD and DED."
If the city is awarded the grant, then the city would choose an appraiser before the end of the year. That appraiser would be in charge of performing appraisals of each property and making offers to property owners, according to the handout. If a property owner rejects an offer, they have the option of hiring their own appraiser.
The strongest message from Cornett was for victims to participate in the process, even though uncertainty prevails.
"Don't hesitate," Cornett said. "Enrolling in the intake gets your name on the list, and you can always back out if you change your mind."
No resident will be forced to sell their property, even if their neighbors do, according to city staff.