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West Kentucky Counties form long term recovery groups to rebuild communities

A specialized truck with an attached crane picks up debris along the road in Mayfield.
Liam Niemeyer / WKMS News
A specialized truck with an attached crane picks up debris along the road in Mayfield.

Counties in western Kentucky are forming long-term recovery groups made of local volunteers to help rebuild at the community level after December’s deadly tornado outbreak.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave guidance to counties on how to organize long-term recovery groups, and different communities are quickly establishing charters so they help individuals who might have fallen through the cracks of federal assistance.

While FEMA gave the base structure for long-term recovery groups, counties are adapting the bylaws to suit their individual needs. Most groups will have subcommittees such as construction, crisis counseling and case management.

Al Chandler is the pastor for Northside Baptist Church in Mayfield and volunteers as the chairman of the executive committee for the Mayfield-Graves County Long Term Recovery Group.

“Starting in January, a lot of non-profit community organizations began to gather to coordinate together.” Chandler said, “And we realized it was time for our community to form (one).”

The Mayfield-Graves County group met officially for the first time in late January. Chandler said the group is composed of community organizations active in disasters (COADs). The Community Foundation of West Kentucky has partnered with the group to manage their funds.

Chandler said the group already has goals for which issues need to be addressed first in Mayfield and Graves County. A major focus will be helping homeowners who need repairs to their property or renters who are now displaced which Chandler said is an issue special to Mayfield.

“Tenants are struggling to find homes and locations to live.” said Chandler “We have groups that are ready to build new homes for homeowners that weren't insured. But, we’re seeing that a lot of our residents were rentals”

Chandler said the group is “having to get creative” and look into possible solutions for how it can best help the residents of Mayfield and Graves County.

For some groups in other counties, the top priority is just to get organized. Heath Duncan is the executive director for Habitat for Humanity in the Pennyrile region, and he’s lending his expertise in human services as the chairman of the Hopkins County Long Term Recovery Group.

“We’re still in that figuring-out-how-we’re-going-to-do-this phase; getting organized and getting our ducks in a row,” Duncan said “One of the early objectives of the group is to create a mission statement and bylaws and eventually get a 501c3 designation.”

The Hopkins County group has opted to handle its own funds and donations by filing to become a nonprofit organization. Duncan said this will help the group to not have to pay sales tax on items they buy, allow them to own property and not pay property tax, and issue tax recipients to donors.

Duncan said that before the Hopkins County group can get more involved in initiatives involving housing or other issues, their first need will be to get their case management subcommittee operating so it can begin to evaluate the needs of residents on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re in the process of recruiting folks for that, to serve in that role, and we will provide training for that also,” Duncan said.

Duncan said that the Hopkins County group has partnered with the Catholic Charities Organization to provide training for case managers. He said it’s important this be the first step for the Hopkins County group because case managers are the ones who will reach out to families and begin the process of understanding their needs.

Other counties have already begun projects to build back their communities from the ground up. However, long-term recovery groups are asking for help from local residents in moving forward. For Fulton County’s group, Judge-Executive Jim Martin said his county’s group desperately needs the community’s support.

“There is a lot of damage on real estate that we have no control of. It’s privately owned real estate, and we do not have the authority,” Martin said. “Our committee nor does the county government have the authority to go on private property and address situations.”

Martin is asking all Fulton residents to help with moving debris that might still lay on private property by moving it to the right of way near roadways, where the Fulton County group can clean it up.

“It’s not just the government's responsibility to do all the things we have to do to recover. This is a team,” Martin said. “And the government and the residents have to work together in order to achieve what we’re trying to do. No one party is responsible for doing this alone.”