ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County will hire a code enforcement officer to inspect more than 60 properties that owners hope will be bought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
County supervisors voted unanimously at Monday's Ways and Means Committee meeting to let the Community Resources Department create and fill a temporary position. The code officer will be paid $20 per hour; the salary will come out of FEMA funds.
County Manager Dan Palmer said the county has someone in mind for the job, but he didn't offer any specifics.
"We spoke specifically with this individual, and he estimated ... a couple hours for each property," Palmer said. "Frankly, I think that's a little low. I think you would probably estimate around four or five hours per property, so it gives you around 300 and something hours. For 20 dollars an hour, I think it's pretty reasonable for a code enforcement officer to actually go and look at each of these properties and do the work."
The county would also cover mileage costs, Palmer noted.
Community Resources Director Mike Mascarenas told the Enterprise that as of Monday, 66 property owners impacted by Tropical Storm Irene last year had submitted letters of intent for FEMA's property buyout program. To qualify, a property must be at least 50 percent damaged, Mascarenas said.
"And that damage can only be assessed by a code enforcement officer," he said. "Generally, in most communities they have their own code enforcement officers that are able to do the work. ... The volume really dictates us having to have access to our own code enforcement officer. There's just too much. Each of these individual towns, they're part-time guys."
Mascarenas said it will likely take the new officer six weeks to finish inspections.
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay, said he feels more comfortable about the potential buyouts after a Feb. 16 informational meeting held in AuSable Forks that featured FEMA officials. Fifty people from the town of Jay plan to pursue buyouts; the other 10 or so on the list are in Keene and Keene Valley.
"I definitely think it was a success," Douglas said. "There are a number that are interested, but I'm not sure they're all going to qualify."
Property owners who qualify will get up to 75 percent of their home's worth.
"It's tough," he said. "We got a lot of people who really have no choice at this point. That's their only option, which is sad."
Mascarenas added that property owners will have to be patient, as the process to complete the buyout program could take up to a year. Letters of intent are due by Wednesday. Mascarenas said he received close to a dozen letters after the informational meeting.