Original audit conducted by the State recommended the return of $40.5 million from Hurricane Ike disaster relief funds. “I don’t think everyone understands the degree of debris Chambers County had to remove after Ike” County Judge Jimmy Sylvia said in Commissioners Court regarding the audit results. “You have to remember there were hazardous chemicals, propane bottles, refrigerators not to mention dead animals and human remains in the vast piles of debris dumped into Chambers County” Sylvia added.
By Dayna Haynes Editor/The Progress
Chambers County Commissioners voted to appeal the audit conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) de-obligating the county of more than $9.1million. In the FEMA audit they are recommending to de-obligate $9,125,566.31 from the funds the county received for debris removal after the unprecedented amount of debris left in Chambers County from Hurricane Ike.
“We feel we can shave a couple of millions of dollars off the amount FEMA is recommending” Chambers County Emergency Management-Fire Marshall Ryan Holzaepfel said to commissioners last week. Adding they would be submitting an official appeal of the FEMA audit with in the 60 day limit.
This amount is far less than the $40,552,442 the Office Inspection General (OIG) of the Texas Department of Public Safety recommended in their audit conducted back in 2010. Holzaepfel felt the $9.1 million was still too much and is confident that the county will be able to show documentation to support their claims that will drastically reduce the amount being de-obligated.
So what does it mean? If there is another disaster to hit Chambers County and assistance is needed- the amount of funds the county would have received would be “paid” against the de-obligation owed back to the federal government. According to Holzaepfel we are not the only county that FEMA has de-obligated funds from. FEMA has de-obligated around $30 million in funds from several counties throughout the state that have suffered from disasters.
The State is preparing to ask the legislature to cover this matter, since it appears to be a statewide issue. Holzaephel wanted citizens to understand this matter would not affect individual FEMA claims; this only affects disaster aid at the county level. “The county will do all they can to assist citizens in the event of disasters to assure their safety and recovery” Holzaepfel said.
According to the FEMA report the amount derived from five different areas of concern. The first involves contracting procedures and monitoring. FEMA agreed with the OIG audit that Chambers County did not follow proper contracting procedures as outlined in federal regulation on some of the contracts.
However, FEMA does not agree with OIG’s recommendations to de-obligate all the contract costs. Historically FEMA will in an effort t o assist the State an applicant (County) in the recovery of a major disaster, review the costs claimed by an applicant for reasonableness to establish reimbursement for eligible work. In the case of Chambers County, FEMA has followed agency practice and compared the prices paid by Chambers County to the FEMA Reasonable Cost Matrix (RCM) and determined that Chambers County actually paid a rate of $16.98 per cubic yard for both private and right-of-way debris removal. This amount was less than the RCM of $17.78. FEMA also determined that the contract with Garner Environmental Inc. was procured through an inter-local agreement with the City of Beaumont and the pricing in their contract was found to be reasonable.
In an effort to assist Chambers County in future events, the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) in partnership with FEMA has assisted the county in the development and implementation of a “Debris Management Plan”, which is now included in the county’s overall Emergency Management Plan. FEMA has determined that the unit costs paid by Chambers County are reasonable and will allow full payment for contracts, less any ineligible or unsupported costs identified in the following areas: contractor commuting costs, contractor overtime costs, and documentation of cost.
FEMA performed an in-depth audit of project worksheets in which commuting costs were questioned in the OIG report. FEMA found $3,525,422 of the $3,681,597 identified in the OIG report to be inconsistent with the Public Assistance Program guidelines regarding commuting costs. Therefore, a disallowance of $3,525,422 will be made.
After FEMA audited the project worksheets in which contractor overtime costs were questioned in the OIG report, they found an additional $204,701 in eligible overtime costs above the OIG findings. A disallowance of $466,741 will be made.
Additionally FEMA audited the project worksheets in which contractor’s unsupported costs were questioned in the OIG report of $73,760 and one additional project worksheet that reflected an additional $4,598,816.50 in ineligible unsupported costs. A disallowance of $4,672,576.25 will be made.
Including in FEMA’s in-depth audit of the 16 project worksheets in question revealed additional deductions of $463,317 above those previously identified and discussed in the recommendations. Leaving a positive adjustment in the favor of the applicant for $2,489.70 in calculation errors discovered. A total of $460,827.06 will be disallowed.
In conclusion, the OIG report questioned $44,569,839 in claimed costs due to the method of contracting ineligible commuting costs, ineligible overtime costs and unsupported costs. After a thorough review of available information and an in-depth audit by FEMA, it has been determined that a total of $9,125,566.31 should be de-obligated. FEMA Region 6 will take the appropriate action to recover the $9.1 plus million as a result of this audit.