Financial help offered to wildfire victims
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
9/05/12 at 7:25 AM
See photo slideshows of the fire and its damage, view aerial video from Saturday’s inferno and read previous stories.
MANNFORD - More than 100 victims of the Creek County wildfires attended an area meeting Tuesday night to get financial information and advice as they start the slow process of putting the pieces of their lives back together.
Mannford Town Administrator Mike Nunneley, who was encouraged by the turnout at the Mannford High School's Multi-Purpose Facility, urged residents to consider taking advantage of low-interest loan opportunities that will make their federal assistance dollars stretch.
Many who lost all their material possessions in the fires are qualifying for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's maximum grant of $31,400. The grant does not have to be paid back and is given to fire victims in a lump sum.
Nunneley said FEMA is not bringing in trailers for temporary residences, as it has done in some other areas, but is offering financial assistance through the grants.
"I think they just said, 'We'll do it monetarily and let people decide how they want to leverage that money,'" Nunneley said.
Fire victims are also offered low-interest loans that can be paired with FEMA dollars to purchase a mobile home or to rebuild houses. A FEMA grant may be used as the down payment for a loan.
The federal Small Business Administration gives low-interest loans not just for business owners but for home owners and renters, as well, at rates as low as 1.688 percent for homeowners and renters and 4 percent for businesses with terms up to 30 years.
And American Heritage Bank is offering a 15-year, 4-percent loan with no origination fees for fire-loss victims on conventional or mobile homes.
Jennifer Reed wasn't enticed by the low-interest loan opportunities.
"I think the grant would be better," she said, "because we owned everything free and clear. I don't want to suddenly jump into a home loan."
Reed said she owns five acres where her uninsured mobile home was destroyed. She doesn't think it could have been insured, anyway, because it was a 1977 model.
Nunneley urged residents who have or will be awarded FEMA grants to be careful as they make purchases and avoid telling sales people exactly how much they have to spend.
"If you tell them how much money you have, I guarantee they're going to want to help you out. Don't get taken advantage of," he warned.
Craig Anderson, an area accountant, discouraged those who inquired about using 401(k)s to cover expenses.
While individuals would probably have access to the funds due to a hardship, Anderson said the money would have to be repaid within five years.
"If you don't, it becomes taxable, and there's a penalty," he said.
Like many residents, Reed said her septic system will have to be replaced along with more than 160 feet of PVC pipe.
Nunneley said the city is working to get equipment and volunteers to help with septic repairs and electric needs at victims' home sites.
"We have plumbers that said they would help. We have people who will donate their time," he said. "The city will do all we can even though it's outside our jurisdiction. We're going to go out and help even through none of it happened in our city limits."
Reed, her husband, four children and five dogs have been staying in Reed's mother's one-bedroom apartment since the wildfire destroyed their mobile home and a cherished 1976 Chevrolet Blazer.
Nunneley said officials are working and hoping to entice builders to the area. He said they also want to try to pool resources from monetary donations by buying PVC pipe and other items at a bulk rate.
Forty people requested some type of help Tuesday night.
Some residents said their lawn equipment was destroyed and that their scorched properties are now already knee-high in newly grown grass. A disabled man said he needed help with rebuilding a deck. A woman inquired whether legal assistance would be available.
Nunneley told the crowd that the city would waive deposits for new electric, water and sewer service to customers who lost their dwellings in the county.
FEMA has set up a second disaster recovery center at the First Baptist Church of Olive.
The first has been in operation for a week at the Mannford Community Center from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Nunneley said people are still signing up for assistance - 24 more people did on Tuesday.
For more information about a Small Business Administration loan, call (800) 659-2955 or visit the agency's website at tulsaworld.com/sba
For more information about FEMA disaster relief, call 800-621-3362 (FEMA) or visit that agency's website at tulsaworld.com/disasterassistance.
Original Print Headline: Help offered to fire victims
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Mannford resident Jennifer Reed, who lost her home in the recent wildfires, signs an assistance form for help Tuesday after a town hall meeting at Mann- ford High School to help wildfire victims understand the grant funding process through FEMA and other sources. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Burl Kelton, representative with the Small Business Administration, speaks to victims of the recent Creek County wildfires during a town hall meeting Tuesday to help them understand the grant funding process through FEMA and other sources. The meeting was held at Mannford High School. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World