Calhoun County fund depleted while officials wait for promised federal aid
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Oct 20, 2012 | 4520 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A piece of tin still hangs from a tree Friday in Webster’s Chapel, a year and a half since the devastating tornado of 2011. Calhoun County used its reserve fund for building projects in the recovery effort, leaving the county just $150,000 in the fund until reimbursement is paid from the federal and state governments. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
A piece of tin still hangs from a tree Friday in Webster’s Chapel, a year and a half since the devastating tornado of 2011. Calhoun County used its reserve fund for building projects in the recovery effort, leaving the county just $150,000 in the fund until reimbursement is paid from the federal and state governments. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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Calhoun County officials spent millions of dollars to help residents quickly recover after the April 2011 tornado outbreak, but those same officials are still waiting on promised federal funds to help mange the expense.

Calhoun County officials estimate that the state and federal governments still owe the county $2.2 million for tornado recovery costs. The county is waiting on the federal government to pay $1.6 million of that sum and for the state to pay the remaining $600,000, said Faye Robertson, Calhoun County assistant administrator.

Though the federal government has yet to pay all the money county officials are waiting on, the feds have paid $4.5 million of the total $7.7 million recovery cost Washington has said it will pay the county. But the outstanding debt has put the county in a pinch.

The county’s reserve fund for building projects was used to pay for the recovery costs and is now short the $2.2 million local officials are waiting on. The county expects the funding because federal officials promised it after the president declared much of Alabama a federal disaster area after the April 2011 tornado outbreak.

The county’s building reserve fund currently holds roughly $150,000. Not only is that sum insufficient for a major project, Robertson said, it’s also not enough for some minor capital projects the county might need to tackle.

Kurt Pickering, a spokesman with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has obligated the $7.7 million to Calhoun County. Now, Pickering said, it is up to the state to disburse the funds to the local government.

Attempts to get information from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency were unsuccessful Friday. Agency spokeswoman Yasamie R. August said the agency’s computer and Internet systems were down and she was unable to retrieve data for this article.

Robertson said that even though the funds have been obligated at the federal level, they haven’t been delivered at the local level. The outstanding reimbursements are linked to project worksheets that are awaiting approval from state and federal officials, she said.

“We have received a certain portion of it, but the rest of it is still sitting there,” Robertson said. “That’s just like a promise to pay but until the money is in my bank, I don’t have it.”

The county would have to eliminate services or borrow money to make ends meet if it encountered a significant capital need or had to help the area recover from another disaster, she said.

“We don’t go into borrowing money lightly because of the interest rate that we have to pay,” Robertson said. “There are so many regulations for borrowing money on the counties that it costs money to borrow money.”

Robertson said that county officials would “tighten their belt before they borrowed,” but that officials would borrow money before they cut services.

“Every bit of this is out of our hands,” Robertson said. “We were fortunate in the fact that we did have some savings.”

The amount in the reserve, Robertson pointed out, is not even enough for some relatively minor improvements — such as the shower upgrades Sheriff Larry Amerson requested for the county jail, expected to cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Without the reserve funding, the Calhoun County Commission opted to pay for only a part of the upgrades, roughly $45,000.

“Our hands are tied by finance so we’re going to piecemeal the shower upgrades,” Robertson said. “That’s not going to get the job done, but it’s going to be a start.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
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