The decision to hire a full-time disaster recover manager in Monson a month before the year anniversary of last June's tornado is receiving mixed reviews from residents.
The position is funded as part of the $520,000 released by the state to assist the nine towns that were devastated by a category EF-3 tornado nearly a year ago.
“I think it’s a waste of money,” said Gail Morrissey, a Street Angel volunteer. “I can’t see what benefit this position would bring that the other positions can't do;
$65,000 could go so far towards something else.”
After state officials observed the recovery efforts in Monson, they asked the town administrator, Gretchen Neggers, if additional personnel would help. She didn’t hesitate in saying, “yes.”
"When you look at the fact that Gretchen Neggers has been pretty much managing the recovery process by herself, it became pretty obvious that assistance was necessary," said Alana Murphy, the Director of Policy Development for the Department of Housing and Community Development.
"The Patrick administration has tried to be responsive of the need of the individual communities as they tried to recover from the disaster and this is something we felt we could do for Monson," she said.
“We’re very appreciative of the help,” said Neggers. “This position would really serve to be a link to make sure everybody knows what’s going on.”
The disaster recovery manager would help determine whether to repair or rebuild the Monson town offices and devise a plan of action for the 150 acres of land that still looks the way it did the day after the tornado. The manager would also work with non-profit organizations to determine the resources they have to offer the town and individual residents.
Additionally, they would help keep tabs on the multiple volunteer groups that have formed in town and assist them in locating additional resources.
“There are so many volunteer groups. There needs to be a link,” Neggers said.
Out of the $520,000 in state funds, $425,000 is being allocated for housing rehabilitation. Neggers said the disaster recovery manager will be crucial in informing residents if they are eligible for those funds and in helping them access the monies.
“We don’t want our residents who still have needs to miss those opportunities because they don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
Street Angels founder, Karen King, said the state funds are distributed among the affected communities on a first come, first serve basis.
"If we don’t have someone who knows what they're doing to get applications in on time, Monson will miss out and not get their fair share," she said. "This will definitely help move things along and help us get a piece of the pie that we otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to get."
Neggers compared Monson’s recovery to that of Springfield, noting the $1.6 million provided by Mass Mutual for tornado recovery, including the hiring of personnel.
“We don’t have any of those resources,” she said. “The work is falling on to people who already have full-time jobs, so it doesn’t get done properly and then the community suffers.”
However, many residents feel that the money could be used for more necessary recovery efforts. One resident posted on the Facebook group, Monson Tornado Watch 2011, that the money would be better spent on a tornado siren.
“We still have people that haven’t taken down their old houses or cleared their lots because they were uninsured or under-insured,” said Morrissey, who believes the money should go towards helping these individuals.
However, Neggers said the $65,000 was specifically appropriated to hire a disaster recovery manager and cannot be used for anything else. She believes that this position will bring the town more funds in the future.
The position will only be filled for one year and the $65,000 will go towards salary benefits and expenses. The hiring process will begin as soon as the town receives the paperwork allowing them to do so.
Anna Meiler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @anna_meiler.
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.