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City looks to speed up payback

Mayor Pam Iorio on Tuesday said she will consider waiving city policy and providing money up front for expenses incurred by residents who were driven from their homes last week when a city water main burst along Himes Avenue.

The displaced residents claimed city officials refused to give money in advance for hotel costs and other expenses incurred from the flooding, instead telling them to save receipts.

The residents said they didn't have the money to buy what they need and wait for reimbursement. Tina Tyler, whose house suffered heavy water damage, said she borrowed money from her 401(k) retirement fund to replace items that were destroyed, including groceries, toiletries, clothes and diapers for her 2-year-old daughter and food for her pets.

Iorio on Tuesday said city policy dictates that "when something of this nature occurs" people usually save receipts, and the city reimburses the expenses.

But, she added, "We're taking a look at that and seeing if we can redo our policy and pay for (expenses) up front. We have to be sensitive" to situations like Tyler's, the mayor said.

She said she brought the issue up at a staff meeting Tuesday morning and asked city attorney David Smith if the city could waive its normal policy.

Tuesday afternoon, Smith said it could, likely in the form of a pre-set per diem to cover temporary housing and other incidentals.

"We're free to do that," he said. "It's a policy issue, not a legal issue. What we typically do is the same thing insurance companies do. I understand that for some people, such an arrangement is proving difficult."

But while the city wants to live up to its promises to take care of those affected, he said, it isn't about to start issuing blank checks.

"We want to find a way to accommodate (the residents) and still be fiscally responsible. We don't want to do just carte blanche," he said.

Smith said there are other hurdles, like navigating the levels of bureaucratic red tape.

"We can't just write checks. You can't get money out of the city very easily," he said. "We're doing everything to expedite this process."

But he acknowledged that it could take days. Each day seems like a long time to Tyler, who said Tuesday evening the city had yet to take action.

"We're just very frustrated," said Tyler's attorney, Joe Registrato. "I don't know what else to do to help this woman. She doesn't have a penny."

It's the same story for Tyler's neighbor, Danielle Dubin.

"I haven't been contacted by anybody," Dubin said Tuesday evening. "I'm very upset."