County working to collect Katrina funds from FEMA

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2008

County, state and federal officials are working together to finda solution to a procedural dilemma that has caused money owed tothe Lincoln County Fire Association to be withheld.

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said theFederal Emergency Management Agency has yet to approve a $25,000reimbursement to the county’s volunteer fire departments for workdone immediately following Hurricane Katrina in the fall of2005.

The total amount owed is $50,000, with FEMA having agreed to payhalf that amount so far. Officials are now working to acquire theremaining half.

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“FEMA is going to approve $25,000, and we’re working on how to getthe rest,” Galey said. “They are trying to work with us – we’re alltrying to figure out a way to overcome this situation.”

The hangup in the payment process has occurred because thevolunteer fire departments’ equipment is not listed in LincolnCounty’s inventory – the list FEMA uses to verify agencies thatparticipated in the recovery efforts.

“Whenever a disaster is declared and an entity supplies a service,FEMA uses the personnel time sheets and inventory lists to back upthat service,” Galey said. “Although the departments were workingfor the citizens of Lincoln County, FEMA reimburses any contractorthat goes out and helps during a declared disaster.”

Galey said the agency has requested a computer-generated list ofthe inventory of all the fire departments before it will refund themoney, but the departments are without the computers necessary toproduce such a list.

“The major problem here is the volunteer fire departments don’thave that type of resource available to them to generate and keepup with this inventory list,” Galey said.

The departments’ equipment was removed from the county’s inventoryyears ago for insurance purposes.

In exchange for the removal, the county now provides the fireassociation with insurance funding. Galey said that, as a result ofthe change, the association was now able to provide insurance onbasically all of the departments’ equipment.

To remedy the situation, Galey is currently going through thecounty’s comprehensive emergency management plan and highlightingall references to the volunteer fire departments and descriptionsof their duties during the disaster. He hopes the records will besufficient to prove the departments’ participation to FEMA andbegin the process of reimbursing the final $25,000.

In the weeks following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on Aug.29, 2005, Lincoln County’s volunteer fire departments responded tothe call for volunteers, engaging in a number of emergency servicessuch as extinguishing fires, operating shelters, distributingsupplies and helping the county keep the roads open and clear ofdebris. Some of the departments were on hurricane duty for as muchas three weeks, which significantly drained their limited operatingfunds.