News10NBC Investigates: County says NYS wind storm money "doled out like pork"

March 09, 2018 06:15 PM

News10NBC continues its investigation into why some towns are getting money to pay for last year's wind storm and some are not. News10NBC investigators found out the state is not following the law it passed last summer and that's one reason why some towns hit by the storm didn't even know there was money available.

The storm hit one year ago this week.
The law signed by Governor Cuomo says the state was supposed to set up a grant application so every municipality in Monroe County could get reimbursed for money spent after the wind storm.
That never happened.

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So the wind storm money is going through the office of New York State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle.
And until News10NBC reported that information Thursday night, not everyone knew about the money.

Brean: Did you know about this?
Mark Assini, Town of Gates Supervisor: Absolutely not.
Jesse Sleezer is the Monroe County Spokesman.
Brean: Did you know the money was available?
Sleezer: No, no one from the state contacted us.
In the fine print of the law signed by Governor Cuomo it says there was supposed to be a grant for towns to get money. The grant application doesn't exist and so the wind storm money application goes through Assemblyman Morelle's office.
Brean: So how did we get to this point?
Joe Morelle, (D) NYS Assembly Majority Leader: Well during the conversation about the flood relief I raised the question with all the partners about whether there could be relief for wind storm for towns.
Assmeblyman Morelle says he secured $2 million from the State Assembly.
Joe Morelle, (D) NYS Assembly Majority Leader: The grant process, I think people, it may be over stated. We were given the charge of trying to be able to assess what the damage is and we want to try to meet that.
Brean: The grant process is in the law that the Governor signed.
Morelle: Yeah, and the grant process is we're asking towns to submit to us what their costs were.

But not every town was asked.

News10NBC found that Greece, Irondequoit, Webster, Penfield and Henrietta were told about wind storm money. During our investigation we know Chili, Ogden, Gates, Parma and Monroe County were not.

Morelle: Monroe County is not eligible. Monroe County is not eligible. It's only for towns.
Brean: Right, but Gates didn't know and the Gates Supervisor says he called some of his colleagues and they didn't know.
Morelle: Well I don't know who he spoke to. Some of them may not have had any wind storm damage.
Monroe County got flood relief money from the state to the tune of $1.5 million.
Jesse Sleezer, Monroe County spokesman: I think this process has raised significant concerns. The question is why did a single Assemblyman in the state legislature who represents this area end up having the sole discretion over how these very important dollars were distributed? These were dollars that were intended to off set dollars borne by local taxpayers and they end up getting doled out like pork.

Brean: How would you respond to a charge like that?
Joe Morelle, (D) NYS Assembly Majority Leader: Well I would say this. I saw a need and I guess I'm not necessarily concerned about what people want to call it. It is an appropriation which I secured. And so that's it. And we're distributing the money according to that.
According to the law signed by the governor, the grant application was supposed to be through Empire State Development and the state office of Housing and Community Renewal. We received this statement from HCR's spokesman Freeman Klopott:

"New York is committed to ensuring all New Yorkers have the support they need to recover from the increasing strength and frequency of storms and related disasters. In July, legislation was enacted establishing programs to recover from the Lake Ontario flooding and the March 2017 windstorm. The State prioritized the flood response to address immediate health and safety issues. As funds are being released to affected counties and local governments to strengthen infrastructure against future flooding, the State is now working with our partners in government to assess the unmet needs in communities affected by the windstorm and deliver funds as needed."


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