If the federal and state governments don’t pay for the Hurricane Dorian-related expenses, Chatham County, Ga., taxpayers could end up holding the bag for significant costs brought about by hurricane preparations.
(TNS) — Chatham County, Ga., commissioners decried the possibility of getting stuck with the bill for expenses incurred because of the area's state-ordered mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Dorian — estimated at approximately $1 million — while deliberating on several storm-related matters at Friday's board meeting.
During an omnibus spending discussion in their regular meeting on Friday, members of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners expressed dismay over a verbal conversation with Georgia officials about Hurricane Dorian evacuation costs. Although Chatham County received a Federal Emergency Declaration from FEMA on Aug. 29 that pledged "to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures," Georgia authorities have subsequently asserted that the state threshold required for federal reimbursement was not met.
If the federal government refuses to pay Georgia for Dorian-related expenses, and the state then declines to reimburse the state's coastal counties for the mandatory evacuation, Chatham taxpayers could end up holding the bag for significant costs brought about by hurricane preparations.
"I hope 'no' doesn't mean 'no'," said Board Chairman Albert J. Scott in reference to the state's possible refusal to pay obligatory Hurricane Dorian evacuation costs. "It was a declaration by the Governor ... we're sort of caught in between."
Costs that Chatham County racked up because of the evacuation order included the rental of charter buses to transport low-income area residents inland, funds for sheltering these evacuees for multiple days in Augusta, and myriad other expenditures required for these complex emergency operations. "It's about a million dollars in expenses associated with it," Scott said.
A letter to state officials is being drafted to evaluate these expenses and attempt to receive appropriate compensation for the evacuation procedures, according to Scott.
Following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, state and federal emergency managers awarded $22.9 million to the county and its municipalities for a variety of costs related to the storm. In total, the county and municipalities suffered more than $60 million in damages from Matthew.
In another storm-related issue in the action calendar, the commissioners unanimously voted to allocate an additional $437,704 toward the ongoing restoration of McQueen's Island Trail, which is currently closed after sustaining extensive damage from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017.
Chatham County initially approved a $1.46 million contract with Savannah-based E&D Contracting Services in December of 2018 to reinforce the waterfront trail, and a change order approved in April added another $213,455 to the repair bill, so Friday's allocation brings the total project costs to more than $2.1 million.
The commission also approved a unit-price increase for the removal of vegetative debris as needed after hurricanes or other natural catastrophes. CrowderGulf, LLC requested to raise their rate from $2.35 per cubic yard to $3.10 per cubic yard with the "pre-event" contract's annual renewal. CrowderGulf is an Alabama-based provider of disaster-recovery services contracted with Chatham County Public Works since October 2016. Nearly 2.5 million cubic yards of debris were collected in the county after Hurricane Matthew.
Other expenditures approved by the Chatham board included $121,133 for a full-body security-screening system for the Chatham County Detention Center, aimed at reducing the amount of contraband being smuggled into the correctional facility. Meanwhile, the commissioners rescinded a $293,200 contract approved in July with Atlanta-based Aquatic Management Inc. to resurface the indoor pool at the Chatham County Aquatic Center.
The board meeting also included the declaration of Sept. 20, 2019 as POW/MIA Recognition Day in Chatham County; the introduction of Todd Martin, the new Circuit Public Defender for the Eastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia; and the swearing-in ceremony for the 2019-2020 Chatham County Youth Commission.
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