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Murray flood victims have week to finish claims

Published August 24, 2011 9:17 am

Compensation • County Council sets aside $165,000 to help homeowners rebuild.
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Murray • A week remains to get paperwork in order for homeowners who filed claims against Salt Lake County for flood damage to their homes after a July 26 thunderstorm.

County officials set an Aug. 31 deadline for three dozen residents of two Walden Glen subdivisions to submit receipts and other documents that back up their claims of losses after storm runoff overwhelmed a drain pipe under repair by county employees.

The Salt Lake County Council, while maintaining the government is protected from liability lawsuits, last week set aside $180,000 to reimburse homeowners for half of their damages.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful, and I appreciate that the council wants to do what's morally right, but that [offer] is hard to take when you know the damage could have been prevented," said Cheryl Leithead, whose newly remodeled basement was inundated.

"Our hardwood floor is ruined and the carpet has to be taken out" of the family room and office that she and husband Joel had just refurbished. "What are you to do? You're at a loss. You have to be happy they're helping, but there's not enough money to get it livable again."

Councilman David Wilde, whose district includes the west Murray neighborhood, said county officials sympathized with the homeowners, especially since county crews had been working since Memorial Day to fix the broken culvert behind the homes.

Crews were waiting for a section of cement pipe for the culvert when the late July thunderstorm dumped more than an inch of rain near 5400 South and 1200 West.

"The county could take the position, 'Sorry, we feel sorry but we don't have to pay.' But morally speaking, we ought to try to help these folks," said Wilde, referring to a famous Biblical passage about compromising. "We're trying to split the baby in half."

Noting that 35 claims had been filed with an average claim of $10,000, the council last week agreed to set up a flood fund that included $165,000 to "pay 50 cents on the dollar" of residents' damage claims. The fund also includes $15,000 for a county-hired adjustor who will help the county verify claims.

"We feel bad about what happened. We want to help," Wilde said. "But we also have to be concerned about what's fair for the county and the rest of its taxpayers. If people don't want to accept that, they can file a lawsuit."

Leithead and neighbor Jenny Harkness said impacted homeowners have discussed that option, but added that it's hard to know how many will be willing to take that chance when all of the paperwork wrangling is done.

The county's offer "doesn't sit well with me at all," said Harkness, who claims floodwaters 5 feet deep ruined her furnace, a bedroom set and other furniture in a furnished basement apartment. "It got my house really bad. If it's [the county's fault], then I feel they should pay for it."

But with governmental immunity looming large over litigation prospects, Leithead observed that in the end, "you've done your crying, you've done you're screaming, and then you have to pick up what you have and rebuild."


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