The true cost of a disaster

In the coming months, we will start talking about the expenses the city has incurred as part of our clean-up resulting from the derecho on Aug. 10. The debris removal costs from the tornado were around $1.3 million, and we anticipate that this disaster will have us well above this figure when all is said and done. The good news is that the city will receive FEMA Public Assistance, which means 75 percent of the costs for debris removal will be paid by FEMA and 10 percent of the costs will be paid by the State of Iowa.

This will leave the city to cover 15 percent of the total cost, which ends up being a significant amount of money as we start to climb into the millions of dollars.

However, with all the dollars and cents, there is another cost of a disaster to the city that is not one that we will talk about, but will be something that citizens will notice – the cost of the disaster on the city’s operations. During a six-week period, we had many employees allocated to work that would not be considered part of their day-to-day job functions, leaving things undone or not responded to.

While the Street Division employees spent weeks picking up debris for 10 or more hours each day, they were not able to paint school crosswalks, center and edge lines or parking stalls in the downtown. It has also delayed mowing of right-of-way areas and the city’s levee system, as well as maintenance of any gravel areas as part of the street system. It also means that Streets staff members have been resetting existing signs that were blown over or damaged rather than having the time to install the city’s new wayfinding signs.

While Sewer Division staff was doing emergency locates and trying to ensure that storm sewer intakes were clear of debris, they were not able to continue to work on rebuilding storm sewer inlets, so around 10 will have to be pushed back a year, along with some other storm water pipe replacement projects. The derecho also caused delays to contractors working on the city’s sewer system, including the manhole and point repair project and annual cleaning, which was necessary to not be in the way as the massive clean-up took place.

While Engineering employees were assisting with data gathering on tree damage and for Individual Assistance, they had to delay project plans and preparations for the 2021 Street Repair Program and stormwater improvements along Main Street at Seventh and Eighth avenues. The biggest delay of all will be the start of construction on the First Street parking lot, which will now be delayed until 2021.

While Housing and Community Development staff were gathering data for FEMA Individual Assistance, day-to-day operations were delayed, including code enforcement related to non-emergency nuisances, rental inspections of non-life threatening inspections, planning and zoning-related meetings, building permit processing, sign permit and zoning review processing and lead-based paint projects. While most functions have been able to return to normal, code enforcement continues to experience the most delays, and complaints are triaged on a severity basis.

As we get to the point of recovering from our latest disaster, I ask for your understanding of what has happened to the city’s organization as part of this and the toll that two terrible events in just over two years has taken on us. We have had to put some things aside in order to take care of the most important needs, but we continue to transition back into what we would call more normal operations.

Thank you for your patience and understanding and helping us stay Marshalltown Strong!


Jessica Kinser is the Marshalltown City Administrator.


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