HOLMES BEACH – The letter came out of the blue and turned Mike and Cindy Rushforth’s lives upside down when they learned that they would have to demolish their home of eight years.
"It’s been devastating," Mike said. "We’re still in shock."
The letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in February and announced a new mitigation grant program for properties with extensive flood damage. The Rushforths home is located at 6807 Holmes Blvd. on Spring Lake.
"We called the city to ask what it meant," Mike said, "Joe (Public Works Supervisor Joe Duennes) said he would look into it. We’ve never had a flood, so it had to be based on claims made before we owned it."
Another letter followed in March announcing that the program was called the Severe Repetitive Loss Pilot Program, which provides grants for one of four options: acquisition and demolition, elevation of the structure/second story conversion, mitigation or flood proofing.
The next step was a meeting with Duennes and Alvin Shipmon, of the Florida Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the program for FEMA.
"Mr. Shipmom said it’s all based on a model to determine which properties are likely to have more losses," Cindy explained. "He said they would only give us $150,000 toward the cost of elevation and that mitigation or flood proofing were not feasible.
"He said our only choice was acquisition and demolition. If you don’t participate in the program, your flood insurance rates would be based on your being flooded again. He said it would be extremely costly."
"We got the house just the way we wanted it and thought we’d be here until we died," Mike added. "We’re basically being forced into this and the stress and pressure have been unbelievable."
According to documents provided by the Rushforths, there is one other property in the city that is designated as severe repetitive loss, two in Anna Maria and one in Bradenton Beach. The locations are confidential.
Woes with city
The city is in the process of acquiring the Rushforth’s property, which will be deed restricted in perpetuity and can never be built on. Benefits to the city include possible reduced flood insurance rates for other homeowners and use as a stormwater retention area. However, the Rushforths feel the city is treating them unfairly.
"FEMA approved the grant on Sept. 29," Cindy said. "We got the hard copy on Nov. 5 and have 60 days to notify FEMA we’ll accept the grant and work out a contract with the city to buy the property."
The grant amount is $846,486, which is 90 percent of $940,486, which is FEMA’s estimate of the true cost of appraisal value, total demolition cost, title search and city administrative fees. The property’s appraised value is $910,00 and 90 percent of that is $819,00, which is the purchase price.
The Rushforths said they have to find another 10 percent grant or provide it themselves. They said Manatee County did not have any grants available, however, some other counties do.
This gives the city $27,486 for demolition, permits, administrative fees, etc. The Rushforth’s expenses including title policy, doc stamps, closing costs, survey, taxes, etc. bring their net down to $803,271.
"Now the city wants to set aside an additional $42,000 for a contingency," Cindy said. "Every time they change something, it’s deducted from our purchase price and runs up our attorney fees, while the city’s costs come out of the grant.
"At that first meeting with Joe and Alvin, we were told there would be no cost to us, and we signed an agreement that showed the cost borne by the property owner as zero. We’re willing to contribute toward the cost, but we feel they’re being unrealistic."
They said another sticking point is the choice of an attorney to do the closing. The Rushforths want it to be a neutral third party, while the city feels it should be the city attorney’s firm.
"We feel like we’ve given enough," Cindy pointed out. "We don’t expect the city to lose money, but they’re getting a great benefit at no cost to them."
"This experience has been the second most traumatic thing in our lives next to the death of our daughter," Mike added. "We came here to start over. It changed our life overnight.
"FEMA’s not stopping. This is a new fast-track program and we’re only in the first group of people to get the letter. I pray for others who get it. You can’t start to heal until it’s through."