Home Vermont Businesses damaged by summer floods plead for help from Vt. lawmakers

Businesses damaged by summer floods plead for help from Vt. lawmakers

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) – A plea for help from flooded businesses. Seven months in, businesses hit hard by the summer floods say they need state lawmakers to cough up more relief aid.

Nearly 800 businesses took on damage from the flooding, each suffering an average of $150,000 in damage.

Property taxes have taken center stage this session, and state lawmakers have been working on all kinds of proposals from dam safety to flood mitigation to housing and more. Now, some worry that direct cash relief for flooded businesses could be left behind.

The summer flooding clobbered downtowns, destroying inventory and equipment, and closing businesses, leading to revenue loss.

“Rebuilding takes time, it takes resources, it takes grit and heart. And when you have this kind of overnight loss, you need all of that including your community,” business owner Sarah DeFelice said.

Friday in Montpelier, business owners from flood-stricken communities urged lawmakers to continue investing in flood relief.

“This is too great a burden for businesses to bear on their own,” business owner Katie Trautz said.

A $20 million emergency grant fund to help businesses bounce back has long dried up. So, businesses and some lawmakers are calling for a new $40 million business relief program.

They say recovery is slow, and some are still waiting on their low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce says many are still paying off loans from the coronavirus and they can’t take on more debt.

“Just like any organization or your own personal financial situation, there’s only so much you can take. We have heard of businesses beginning to opt out and close,” said Kevin Eschelbach, the president of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

The ask from the business community comes in a year where inflation is driving up costs and pandemic cash has run dry.

“We’re back to reality now that Vermont doesn’t have that kind of money. We have to be strategic on how we spend money now,” said Rep. Michael Marcotte, R-Coventry.

Including making investments in long-term flood mitigation projects.

“Addressing the current need and planning for the future– it has to be both,” said Rep. Jonathan Williams, D-Barre.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also searching for new revenues to tamp down a looming property tax problem.

State Rep. Conor Casey says the inflection point on flood recovery raises the question about the role of government.

“The philanthropy has been great but state government has to do its job,” said Casey, D-Montpelier.

We’re approaching a key deadline in the coming weeks– Crossover Day at the Statehouse– where legislation sinks or swims. Lawmakers and businesses hope the proposal can make it across the finish line before then.

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