- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Senators approved Thursday giving the decimated Marion County hamlet of Nichols $700,000 to stay afloat in the wake of Hurricane Matthew after agreeing to distribute nearly $4 million to counties affected by the 2014 ice storm.

The Senate voted 40-0 on legislation helping the town where most homes remain vacant and businesses closed five months after floodwaters consumed it. The money, to help repair public buildings and replace destroyed equipment, must be repaid if the town receives federal aid. Otherwise, it’s a grant.

The bill specifies the money will come from the nearly $5 million unspent from state aid to farmers after historic flooding in fall 2015.

Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, successfully proposed distributing the remainder among the 23 counties affected by the ice storm, saying it’s not fair that the state has fully reimbursed local governments for other natural disasters over the past decade.

In 2015, legislators put $4 million in the budget to partially cover the ice storm counties’ match for federal aid. Last year, early budget proposals included nearly $12 million to finish reimbursing counties, but that item was eliminated during negotiations.

Compare that with the state covering 100 percent of counties’ share for the fall 2015 flooding, a 2009 wildfire in Horry County and a 2005 ice storm in the Upstate, Young said.

About half of the $11.5 million still not reimbursed was spent by Aiken County, according to a spreadsheet he provided.

Young also pointed to the House’s proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1.

It includes $82 million to cover state and local governments’ share of Hurricane Matthew cleanup. An amendment approved during budget debate earlier this week set aside $700,000 of that for Nichols. An additional $1.25 million in that chamber’s plan covers costs of putting out the Pinnacle Mountain fire that started in Pickens County last November.

Even a nearly $4 million distribution wouldn’t fully cover the 2014 costs, Young said, “but it gets us closer.”

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said the county wants to replenish reserves dipped into to pay its $7 million share of the roughly $35 million total spent.

“Our concern is we weren’t being treated the same way,” he said. “If you’re going to take care of counties hit by floods completely, treat everybody the same way.”

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