LINCOLN — Last month’s epic flooding has officials bracing for a hit on the state budget, but the fiscal impact probably won’t crest until sometime later this year or next.

Some state agencies are already seeking additional funds to repair flood-damaged parks or fund extra building inspectors.

And a state emergency fund may need an influx of $5 million to $10 million over the next two years.

That won’t be a “budget buster” compared with the overall state budget, according to State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who heads the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, but the expenses will bear watching.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on it,” he said.

The state tries to maintain a $5 million balance in its disaster response fund — formally called the Governor’s Emergency Program — so when a disaster like a tornado or blizzard hits, there’s always money available. The fund is used for immediate disaster response like debris removal, sandbagging and rescue operations, and also provides the state’s matching funds for federal disaster aid, which is typically 12.5% of the total.

The fund had about $3.9 million before the onset of flooding, but about $3.5 million of the fund has already been obligated, according to Bryan Tuma, the assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Tuma said most of that money, about $2.3 million so far, will pay for response by the Nebraska National Guard, but paying that bill can be deferred into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. By then, the exact cost of the disaster will become clearer. Officials said deficit appropriations from the state budget may be needed next year and the year after to pay all the bills.

“No one ever envisioned we’d have anything this big,” Tuma said. “With the magnitude of this event, I think everyone realizes that there’s going to be an ask for additional funds.”

A deficit request is not unprecedented: From fiscal year 2006-07 through 2012-13, the emergency fund required annual influxes to replenish the account ranging from just over $1 million to almost $11 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The two largest deficit appropriations came after summerlong flooding along the Missouri River in 2011.

Stinner said the State Military Department, which administers the emergency fund, has indicated that it may need $3 million to $5 million during the next fiscal year, then $5 million more in 2020-21.

While the state budget won’t be finalized until May, some agencies have already indicated that they will have higher expenses.

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The State Fire Marshal’s Office and State Electrical Division have said they will be doing more inspections and may need additional funds.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has asked for authority, over the next two years, to spend $1.5 million in park fee revenue to fix up flooded campgrounds and $600,000 in hunting license funds on damaged wildlife areas. That, state officials said, may delay other park projects.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation is expected to cover its costs to repair roads and bridges within the agency, then seek federal emergency funds to help reimburse the cost, state budget officials said.

On Thursday, Tuma gave these updated figures on estimated damage and disaster aid allocations:

  • $1 billion in losses of livestock and crops.
  • 2,600 homes either destroyed or severely damaged.
  • 3,429 requests for individual federal disaster aid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $10.5 million in requests and disbursed $9.9 million.
  • 15 counties and the Santee Sioux Reservation approved for individual aid and 12 additional counties under review to see if they qualify as well.
  • 2,500 referrals for Small Business Administration home repair loans and 419 business loan referrals.

Floods devastate Nebraska, Iowa in March 2019

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People who populate the towns and small lake communities along the Platte River west and south of Omaha were taking stock of their homes and futures this week. Some of the properties are second homes or summer getaways, but just as many are full-time residences, from small mobile homes to comfortable villas.

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After drenching rains Tuesday and heavy snow on Wednesday, Gibbon’s low spots became apparent, first as water filled streets to the curb, and later on Thursday and Friday as the water spilled into lawns and driveways before lapping at foundations. “I’ve never seen so much water, or the force and damage it can do in a short time,” firefighter Jamey Rome said.

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Thirty buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and the two major aircraft maintenance facilities, had been flooded with up to 8 feet of water, and 30 more structures damaged. About 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway was submerged. No one, though, had been injured.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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