TOPEKA — Near a symbol of survival for Greensburg, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a $32 million relief package for rebuilding the town.
Lawmakers approved the measure Tuesday, which had been set aside for the ceremonial closing of the Legislature but quickly turned into a day of work to help Greensburg, where a tornado ripped through on the night of May 4. More than 1.5 miles wide and packing winds of up to 205 mph, it leveled more than 90 percent of the town of 1,400 and killed 10 people.
Sebelius signed the bill at the Southern Plains Co-op, where the towering white elevators still stood, though its offices were heavily damaged. House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, said it, along with the Kiowa County Courthouse, has become a symbol of survival.
"The courthouse and the elevator stood through it while everything else around suffered damage," said McKinney, who is rebuilding his home, which was destroyed.
The relief package was aimed at encouraging businesses to rebuild in Greensburg rather than moving away. It creates a $5 million grant program and provides businesses with grants equal to 10 percent of their investment in rebuilding, or $3,500 for each full-time employee hired back.
It also exempts Kiowa County businesses from paying sales tax on any services or materials purchased to rebuild, expected to cost the state $2 million, and sets aside $25 million to cover disaster expenses.
The relief package isn't the only financial aid for the town.
When Congress sent President Bush a war spending bill Thursday night, it included $40 million for Greensburg and Kiowa County, along with other parts of the state declared federal disaster areas after recent storms. The money will supplement money already available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren announced a newly formed Greensburg Fraud Task Force, including state and federal agencies, that will investigate and prosecute any thefts of federal disaster relief money earmarked for victims.