Gifford residents get good news

Gifford residents get good news

GIFFORD — Residents of Gifford, battered by a tornado that leveled a large section of the village two months ago, got a measure of good news at a community meeting Monday night.

While the temperature outside hovered near zero, about 200 people attended an informational meeting at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, then met with individual representatives of aid agencies to talk about everything from trees and taxes to property pins and a food pantry.

"I think most of what we heard tonight was pretty good," said Doug McElhoe, whose home was destroyed in the Nov. 17 tornado that ripped through the center of the town of about 900 in northeastern Champaign County. "These meetings are great. They're a must."

"I would not miss these meetings. They have been so helpful," said Molly Flessner, whose home on the north side of town was largely untouched by the twister. "When spring comes, we're going to want to do what we can to help the families in the center part of town. This is a wonderful community. It's very much like a Norman Rockwell painting, and it always has been."

Among the items addressed at the meeting:

— Hundreds of trees will arrive in the town this spring and fall to replace those uprooted, leveled or damaged in the storm. Some coming this spring are being donated by the Cedar Ridge Nursery in Toledo, and the Champaign County Farm Bureau. Dustin Ehler, a member of the Gifford Village Board, said the farm bureau alone will provide 300 to 400 trees that he hopes can be planted in a work day sometime in March. Although heavy equipment will be provided, volunteers will be needed.

And this fall, said Joe Lamb of the Champaign County Forest Preserve Foundation, another round of tree plantings will be done.

— Property owners whose homes were destroyed will not be facing a large property-tax increase in spring 2015, said Sasha Green of the Champaign County Clerk's office.

"We ran some numbers because we know there are some gigantic numbers floating around because people were being told that their taxes were doubling or going up by $1,000," she said. "That's totally not the case."

The owner of an owner-occupied, $100,000 home in Gifford will see a tax increase of about $50 this year and "less than $200" in the spring of 2015, she said.

"Of course, these are all really rough estimates because we actually don't have any hard numbers to calculate your taxes. We would have to know what the (taxing) districts need, and we don't know that now," she said. "But your taxes are definitely not going to double or go up a thousand dollars."

— The Gifford Relief Fund has received more than $542,000 and more donations are on the way, said Tony McLain, president of Gifford State Bank and member of a village committee awarding assistance to residents. About $350,000 has been allocated to residents, or $1,800 per application, he said.

Another $60,000 contribution is expected from the United Way, he said, plus more donations from various fundraising efforts.

— The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago has made $150,000 in rebuilding grants available to Gifford residents, McLain said, with a maximum grant of $5,000.

Habitat for Humanity is also making grants for repairs available for up to $40,000 per family. Habitat also has discounts available for building materials.

— The American Red Cross will help pay for survey crews to find property pins for homeowners who want to rebuild or repair their homes.

— The food pantry at St. Paul's is still open, although it needs to be resupplied and requires additional volunteer help, said Christina Gann, operations manager at the church's tornado-relief site.

"If you are free for a few hours a week and you can help at the pantry, we'd appreciate that," she said.

Gann also said she sent letters to 260 area churches, businesses, labor unions and agricultural organizations asking for donations of money, labor, tools or building materials to help with Gifford's rebuilding this year.

"This is kind of a support group," Gann said after Monday night's meeting. "People are in here, signing up and doing the things they need to do, but they're also meeting up again. All of these neighbors, they've lost touch with each other. They're not living next door or down the street anymore, and this is a time where they can get back together.

"We're probably going to have to do this every three weeks or so, because we have so much information to give out. And it's just good for the community to get together and have some kind of time together where they can see hope."

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