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Flagler County May Be Out $2 Million as FEMA and State Deny Hurricane Reimbursements

| February 7, 2017

Just two weeks ago Gov. Scott and his director of emergency management were in Flagler, touting emergency spending for the county's beaches. But Scott and Bryan Koon, the emergency management director, have changed course on a different pot of money--reimbursement matches for storm spending, leaving the county to pick up the tab. Scott is looking over his shoulder at County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Just two weeks ago Gov. Scott and his director of emergency management were in Flagler, touting emergency spending for the county’s beaches. But Scott and Bryan Koon, the emergency management director, have changed course on a different pot of money–reimbursement matches for storm spending, leaving the county to pick up the tab. Scott is looking over his shoulder at County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Commissioners did not get the news they wanted to hear Monday. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, will not pay at least $1.1 million in claims filed by the county for curbside pick-up of debris from private properties following Hurricane Matthew on October. FEMA is not explaining why it denied the claims. Also, the state emergency management’s proportional match the county was expecting has been cut in half. And FEMA has yet to rule on close to $6 million more in Flagler claims.

“That’s kind of the FEMA way, I hate to say it that way but that’s the answer,” Flagler Emergency Manager Steve Garten said, “and basically that’s OK, you don’t have to agree with them, you do the due process, which is what we’re going to do.” The county is appealing FEMA’s decision.

Bottom line: the county’s federal and state reimbursements could fall short by $2 million out of the $7 million the county spent or committed to spend to recover from the storm, County Administrator Craig Coffey said. The county was expecting that its share of emergency costs would be a few hundred thousand dollars, not in the millions. The county is confident its remaining costs will be reimbursed.

Even so, the potential, unexpected hit to the county’s budget would be serious, as it would severely deplete reserves. Those reserves stood at $4 million before the storm. The county incurred $7 million in storm-related costs that had not been part of its budget. Sometime this spring, the county may have to borrow money to cover the deficit.

“We haven’t written $7 million in checks, we have obligations,” Coffey said. So far the county has moved $3.5 million from reserves into the general fund. “We’ve got money sitting there, but really it’s not there, it’s encumbered. Just like this million-dollar denial, technically from FEMA I could spend $4.5 million and get $4 million back, but I could also spend $4 million and get $2 million back, and that’s the reality.”

“We will have cash flow issues at some point,” Coffey continued. “There’s going to be a pinch that happens that we’re either going to have to borrow money—if this FEMA money doesn’t start flowing, we’re going to have to borrow money, a bridge loan or something,” sometime in April or May.

Emergency Services Manager Steve Garten at a news conference this afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)

Emergency Services Manager Steve Garten. (c FlaglerLive)

Commissioners learned the news in the context of a workshop presentation by Garten updating them on the finances of the October emergency. Other than debris removal, the county spent $700,000 on law enforcement and county employees’ overtime, equipment and other protective measures (cops and firefighters’ overtime accounted for $230,000 of that). County roads and bridges required $200,000 in repairs, county facilities another $150,000. Beach reparation is separate.

FEMA reimbursements require a local match, which Flagler was hoping to split with that state. But even that is in question now, given the federal denial. “They decided, and this is probably the director of emergency management and the governor, that we’re going to have to go back and talk to these individuals because they denied their portion and said it’s all on the county,” Coffey said, referring to Gov. Rick Scott and state Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon, both of whom were in Flagler two weeks ago, getting applause for making a separate pot of emergency money available to the county. “Well, the approach we’ve taken on the 25 percent, we think that the state has picked up this match in previous storms, so why the change in policy is probably something we need to explore with them. But it’s substantial for us, and we’ve taken the approach that those people pay for garbage out in front of their house, whether it’s private or public street, they’re homeowners just like everybody else, they pay taxes and stuff to the state, why they’d be treated differently is beyond me.”

Flagler was given 180 days to provide tFEMA the necessary information for claims. “They’re basically denying us well before that timeframe,” Garten said. “I don’t know why they’re doing it but obviously we’ll do that appeal process to fight that.” Clay County, on the other hand, is receiving funding for all it asked for. “I cannot tell you the rhyme or reason of how FEMA picked who it picked for eligibility,” Garten said. “Just because we don’t have our invoices yet, I still think we have a good shot when we finally appeal that.”

But the rationale behind the denial is still not clear. “Sometimes you’ve got to fight these things, and sometimes you don’t get approved,” Coffey said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad happened, it means they changed the course.”

Palm Coast so far is not facing the same issues with its reimbursements. “We have not had anything denied at this point,” the city’s finance director, Chris Quinn, wrote. “We do not have FEMA claims on our books from private property, only public rights of way.”

Absent a reversal on appeal, the county’s costs will likely affect next summer’s budget season by scaling back projected spending.

“This board needs to understand then that we may come up against a financial wall here at some point if FEMA doesn’t react to us,” Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin said, “because what we’re doing is not only have we committed these funds, but we don’t know where we are with state funds, what we’re going to front there.”

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20 Responses for “Flagler County May Be Out $2 Million as FEMA and State Deny Hurricane Reimbursements”

  1. Mark says:

    It’s because of Trump!

  2. Layla says:

    FEMA is federal and this area belongs to Rep. Ron DeSantis. Has he done anything to help here? Doesn’t sound like it. Anybody know?

  3. Brad W says:

    And that folks is how you pay for a very large wall that you don’t need.

  4. Rick Belhumeur says:

    First of all, I think it is commendable that the county provided equal service to all of its tax paying citizens regardless. I hope they are successful with an appeal. It is a hard hit to take, but the county can/will recover over time.

  5. Paul Davies says:

    Relying on Scott?
    That has never been a good idea!

  6. Dee K Griggs says:

    Do you believe in Karma, FEMA did turn down a citizen, the City of Palm Coast turned down my claim, no it’s not in the millions but I am a 65 yr old senior on Social Security . I will have to follow this closely so I can see who are the best people to contact to try to reverse the decesions that was made on my claims also. I am just getting ready to hire a private inspection company then private contractors now that my home owners insurance had to be dragged into it causing me to stay probably in a sick house how many months now when I am in I’ll health myself. Naturally I will have to copy everything to Gov. RICK SCOTT’S OFFICE.I DO PAY TAXES I AM A HOMEOWNER .I EXPECTED EQUAL TREATMENT I AM A US BORN CITIZEN

  7. Big red says:

    Silly Morons every decision was on obummas watch if we were refugees/prisoners it would have been approved .

  8. Sw says:

    Dont worry the Chump will take care of it.

  9. Tired of it says:

    Many times FEMA will initially deny claims based on the fact they do not have the appropriate paper work and proof of expenditures from the requesting agency. They will also usually deny claims that appear to have over inflated expenditures. Many times municipalities will over bill FEMA for storm related costs hoping they will get paid additional funding. Sometimes that will back fire and you get denied big time.

  10. The Ghost of America says:

    Oh come now, this is exactly what you trumpistas want. Both the federal government and Florida are simply being fiscally responsible. People don’t really need emergency management support, disaster recovery, or other social welfare programs because real Americans would rally their communities and help each other, right?

  11. Kevin says:

    A tax cut should solve the problem… or just have Mexico pay for it.

  12. Yellowstone says:

    “Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall” They chanted . . .

  13. Bobby says:

    So what’s going to happen next hurricane season when we get hit by the ” BIG ONE ” ?

  14. Jimw says:

    Don’t count your eggs before they hatch. Why does someone living on the intercostal in a $500,000 home need FEMA to pay for their storm debris pickup when FEMA has tornadoes in Oklahkma or Kansas ripping apart $10,000 mobile home communities and leaving people homeless? That’s why it was denied and probably rightfully so. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch. Quit overpaying for land with tax payers dollars and expanding roads for a WalMart that was never built. Serve the tax payers wisely don’t abuse their money.

  15. Dirk G says:

    FEMA’s reimbursement process (being a Federal Agency), requires full documentation of monies spent in order to be considered for reimbursement. You can’t “forecast” what you think you have spent.

    If you read Mr. Gartner’s statement in the article: “just because we don’t have our invoices yet…” this is why FEMA is denying the reimbursement initially.

    Now…. if they can gather all of their supporting documents, invoices, labor costs, equipment costs etch and submit a complete package back to FEMA within the deadline given, they have a good chance of getting the money.

    Sounds to me that staff jumped the gun in submitting an incomplete application to FEMA and they were justifiably denied.

  16. #Bernie2020 says:

    Actually this is your Republican Congress. They have told FEMA they are growing tired of paying for natural disasters. So FEMA is now pulling funding from the states, which then the states pull their resources to then fall right back on you and I.

    Just keep this in mind when your kids ask you do to a fundraiser for their sport team because their funding doesn’t cover jerseys , the road you drive on has potholes or we get hit with another Hurricane and you have to pay 6 grand to remove a tree and 10 grand to replace your roof because FEMA’s funding is cut and insurance companies can write their own rules. Oh and they GOP wants to give everyone a tax cut so less money will be generated.

    Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said Congress will follow through on Trump’s border wall order, and McConnell estimated it will cost $15 billion.

  17. #Bernie2020 says:

    FEMA is federal and this area belongs to Rep. Ron DeSantis. Has he done anything to help here? Doesn’t sound like it. Anybody know?

    Ron Desantis voted no on funding for other natural disasters so if he even asks for help, Florida will get a vote of NO as well.

    Below is what he said.

    DeSantis expressed his sympathy for the storm’s victims but said the $9.7 billion aid package was not “fiscally responsible.” “Congress should not authorize billions in new borrowing without offsetting expenditures in other areas,” he continued. “This ‘put it on the credit card mentality’ is part of the reason we find ourselves nearly $17 trillion in debt.”

    Fiscally responsible for Voter that lost their home, Not fiscally responsible for a fence.

  18. Dutch says:

    He can’t, Obamas out of office now….

  19. palmcoaster says:

    You guys voted for Trump right..? Start digging into your pockets now if you have any pennies left! Worst is coming probably.

  20. palmcoaster says:

    Got to pay for his wall!

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