OLIVE BRANCH, IL (KFVS) - After the flood of 2011, 140 families in Alexander County requested a FEMA buyout for property damaged by the flood water. County officials say 90 or so have yet to be paid, and the state budget crisis is complicating matters even further.
Betty and Clayton Greenley said they weren't taking any chances when the water came up this time. In 2011, the couple saw 27 inches of water flood in the lower level of their home.
"We just did everything in a panic," Betty Greenley said. "All of our furniture from down there is out, but everything is still upstairs."
The Greenley's moved everything out of the lower level just three days after they spent what hoped would be their last Christmas in the old Olive Branch home.
"We told our kids this would be our last Christmas," Greenley said. "We thought the buyout would be finished and we would be out of here."
The Greenley's are just one of many Olive Branch families left in limbo; waiting for FEMA buyout funds to come through. The Greenleys' neighbor Mickey Sissom and his wife are waiting too. While water didn't get into their home this time the water came up, Sissom says he moved out and doesn't plan to come back.
"We just moved out last week when the water was coming," Sissom said. "We've fought it so many times – this is our third or fourth time flooding out. We're just tired of it. That's why we took the buyout. We love it here, it's home. But I'm facing 70 years old. I'm sick of sandbags. I can't throw them like I used to."
The Sissoms were a few steps into their buyout when the whole process stopped July 1. The State of Illinois budget crisis froze the funds that were supposed to flow to those hoping to move to higher ground.
"They have the money but with the budget in Illinois and the politicians fighting between themselves and they won't let loose the money," Sissom said.
"Everyone knew from the start it was going to be a pretty complicated process," Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny said. "You've gotta meet the state and federal regulations, so it's gonna take time. But to quit working on it for now seven months when you know it's a multi-year project, and then for this to happen again makes it even more frustrating."
Denny said the state and federal buyout funds meant to help families in Olive Branch is there – waiting. The problem is that without a state budget in place, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources can't release the funds it pledged to the buyout.
"Now some of them have gotten flooded again, so I mean it just keeps going on and on for some of these families," Denny said.
It's certainly gone on and on for Shirley Dunn. She said she has waiting and waited since her home was flooded out in 2011.
"We've been in limbo now four years and seven months, waiting for a buyout that may or may not happen."
Now that her home was swamped again by the New Year Flood, she's still waiting.
"FEMA did their part. It did it well," Dunn said. "That money was released to help people - to get people off the water, but the people never got the money."
Denny said the county can't use the available federal funds to buy out some homeowners and pay others later with state funds. He said while the federal funds do not go through the state, the rules of the buyout program stipulate the money must be distributed in conjunction with state funds to homeowners.