The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 27, 2011

City, county await FEMA funds

By Adam Smith
adam@athensnews-courier.com

— Six months after the April 27 tornadoes, the city of Athens and Limestone County are awaiting hefty federal and state reimbursements for everything from debris removal to repairing damaged infrastructure.

The city received its first FEMA check Monday morning, said city finance administrator Annette Barnes. The $26,199.04 sum represents a small sum comparison to the city’s estimated general fund losses of $207,512.23.

Both the city and county applied to receive funds through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, designed to help municipalities recover after a natural disaster.

The program will cover 75 percent of losses, which amounts to $155,634.17 for the city. The remaining 25 percent is to be divided evenly between state and local funds. City officials previously said they planned to make up the local match through in-kind work.

Funds received by the city will be used to toward emergency services through the fire department ($11,920.39), replacing gravel at the Sportsplex and walking trail ($2,824.30), a damaged police car ($7,762.50) and tree removal at the Old Town Cemetery ($3,691.85).

Other listed expenses include:

• Police protective measures: $80,014.40;

• Debris removal (outside damage grid and inside city): $32,320.84; and

• Debris removal (first push outside grid): $17,099.90.

Athens Utilities claimed losses in the amount of more than $3.5 million, though only more than $2.6 million will be covered at the federal level. The department has received one reimbursement check from FEMA in the amount of $410,568, which it received in August, according to Kent Lewter, chief finance officer for Athens Utilities.

He said the amount will cover the cost of the initial first responders who came to assist the Electric Department following the near county-wide power outages.

“It will cover the federal share of the food and lodging for those people,” Lewter said.

Athens Utilities submitted about $614,000 in Category B expenses, which covered first responder costs, overtime and the cost of workers from other cities who helped following the storms. It also submitted more than $2.5 million in Category F expenses, which covers the cost of utilities materials.

Limestone County

Of the $222,700.32 the county sustained in financial losses, it is eligible to receive $167,025.24 as part of FEMA’s 75 percent share. So far, the county has received only $3,700.96 for temporary storage for ice.

The county’s other expected FEMA reimbursements are as follows:

• Emergency protective services for the county EMA: $17,462.03;

• Road repairs: $2,547.98;

• Damaged equipment (Sheriff’s Department): $7,922;

• Emergency protective services (Sheriff’s Department): $65,065.21;

• Sign replacement: $5,097.14;

• District 3 tool shed: $27,982.93;

• Love Branch Road repairs: $17,191.08; and

• Debris removal: $5,557.13.

FEMA funding shortfalls

Following a harsh winter, spring tornado outbreaks and summertime flooding and wildfire events, FEMA finances have been spread thin.

The agency faced running out of funds until a last-ditch effort last month turned up $40 million, giving FEMA roughly $175 million to carry it through the end of the year.

Without the found money, the agency faced the possibility of insolvency.

The Associated Press reported that FEMA spends roughly $35 million per day.

Besides hunting for extra money, the agency also put limits on spending for some recovery projects, including infrastructure repairs from disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

In late August, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate announced that the agency would limit disaster aid money to “immediate needs,” including repaying states for debris removal and giving individual victims financial help.

The move meant that about $400 million in public assistance projects was put on hold.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.