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Right-of-way professionals from both the public and private sectors comprise the membership of the International Right-of-Way Association (IRWA). The work of the IRWA is organized around different functional committees, one of those being the relocation committee. A questionnaire was sent to the members of this committee to solicit their opinions of the business relocation process. Twelve members responded to the questionnaire.
The respondents indicated that they (or persons under their direct supervision) had been responsible for more than 800 business displacements in the 1997-2000-time period. Almost 300 of these were considered "complex" moves.
A series of questions were asked regarding the adequacy of payment amounts and types for business relocation. In evaluating these responses, the study considered the context of state law under which some of the respondents work. One-third of the respondents indicated they work in a state that permits expanded benefits. For example, responses from an individual working in Wisconsin would reflect that Wisconsin provides benefits five times greater than the federal levels.
A general question was asked about the adequacy of search expense. Just more than half of the respondents felt the payment for search was not a major impediment to successful relocation. The current amount set by regulation at $1,000 was felt to be adequate.
In contrast to the responses on searching payments, three out of four respondents support a substantial increase in funding for reestablishment. This group urged payments in the range of $25,000 to $75,000, with most responses clustered at the lower end of the range. Without considering the source of the current payment levels, respondents regularly observed that current federal payment amounts were set more than ten years ago and need at the least, updating to address the loss of purchasing power.
According to the right-of-way professionals' responses, one of the more frequently reported difficulties encountered by businesses attempting to relocate is the high cost of meeting code requirements. Many current code regulations had been enacted during the businesses' on-going operations, and the facilities were "grandfathered" at their original location. However, relocation required the businesses to meet the newer standards. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated they have faced difficult relocation issues because funding to address these additional code compliance costs is typically only available within the $10,000 cap for reestablishment expenses. This amount often proves inadequate to meet the actual costs of meeting new code standards.
The group was also queried as to the advisability of expanding the payment categories. A majority of fifty-eight percent supported some expansion. Most felt it might be useful to include a very generalized, non-specific "other" payment category. It should be noted that present regulations do permit additional payment categories at the discretion of the displacing agency and FHWA.
The questionnaire also invited respondents to list other areas within the statutes and regulations that they felt should be considered for modification. Some of the items noted were:
The in lieu of payment (fixed payment) should be increased.
Loss of business, trained employees and good will should be compensated.
Ninety days is not an adequate time period for a business relocation; the time allowed for a business to relocate should be a minimum of six months and perhaps as much as one year.
Limits should be placed on benefits available to property owners in the "business" of leasing real estate to others.
Federal agencies can resolve many of the problems of businesses by requiring state agencies to "really" provide substantive advisory assistance.
Businesses should be permitted to classify fixtures as either real estate or personal property.