Bay County, Fla., Files for Expedited FEMA Reimbursement for Hurricane Michael Recovery Spending

The sum would be the first federal reimbursement received by the county for the Oct. 10 hurricane and would be used to help cover $100 million already spent on recovery in the unincorporated area.

by Patrick Mccreless, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / March 21, 2019

(TNS) - Bay County, Fla., expects to get around $46 million in federal reimbursement for Hurricane Michael recovery spending in the next few weeks, leaders say.

The sum would be the first federal reimbursement received by the county for the Oct. 10 hurricane and would be used to help cover $100 million already spent on recovery in the unincorporated area. County officials say they've been meticulous in documenting recovery spending before sending federal requests, slowing reimbursement somewhat but ensuring the process runs smoothly in the long run.

The Bay County Commission got an update on recovery spending and reimbursement requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency during its regular meeting Tuesday.

"We are doing our best by submitting our largest projects up front," Joel Schubert, assistant county manager, said during the meeting. "We are full steam ahead in trying to recover costs thus far."

Schubert said the $46 million would cover debris removal and emergency response after the hurricane. The money will come through two expedited requests made possible with the help of Gov. Ron DeSantis' office and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"The governor's office has been proactive in helping us streamlining the process," Schubert said.

Schubert added that the county last week submitted a damage assessment list to FEMA for reimbursement. The county currently estimates it will incur a more than $400 million bill for hurricane recovery. Of that estimated cost, 70 percent is for debris removal alone.

FEMA already has awarded money to some cities within the county. FEMA recently awarded Panama City $7.4 million in reimbursement money. FEMA also recently awarded Mexico Beach more than $2 million and more than $100,000 to the city of Parker, the agency says.

Schubert said FEMA only sends reimbursement money after it receives receipts on spending — receipts the county has taken its time to submit. Schubert said the county doesn't want to make a mistake that would require it to return money to FEMA later.

"Our approach has been deliberate. ... We've been doing meticulous documentation up front," Schubert said. "We don't anticipate any extra audits from FEMA."

In other business, the commission voted to spend about $840,000 to repair the county's incinerator, which was damaged by the hurricane. The incinerator is used to recycle certain waste materials and generate electricity for Gulf Power.

"The incinerator sustained some significant damage," said Philip Griffitts, chairman of the commission. "It is operational now, but there's things we need to fix."

Griffitts noted there wasn't money allocated in the budget for the repairs.

"We will ask for reimbursement from FEMA," he said.

During the meeting, the commission also voted to buy two properties for almost $400,000 to build a parking lot for the Bay County Courthouse and planned juvenile courthouse. Specifically, the county bought two buildings on 222 and 228 East Fourth Street. Both buildings will later be razed to make the parking lot. The county has long planned to build a new juvenile courthouse on the county courthouse campus.

"We'll need as much parking as we can get," said Robert Carroll, commissioner and member of the Bay County Courts and Clerk Facilities Committee.

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©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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