As of Tuesday, the county had received $4,577,489 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for the costly process of clearing damage done to parts of the county during the April 27 tornado outbreak last year. The state, which is expected to give the county $704,070, had paid none of its promised share, county officials say.
Following the tornado outbreak, the federal government agreed to reimburse local governments for between 75 and 90 percent of the cleanup. The state, too, stepped in, promising to help pay for a portion of the disaster if the local governments would front the money. If those promises held, local governments would pay only a small percentage of the cleanup cost.
The reimbursement process is a common government method for paying for disaster relief, but the county’s extended wait has been longer than usual, said Lee Helms, a former state emergency management director who is managing the cleanup for Calhoun County. The lag time can be attributed to the extent of the damage done that day and the decisions leaders at the top had to make to manage it, Helms and other officials have said.
“They’re trying to be the best they can … but sometimes a backlog occurs, especially in the reimbursement process,” Helms said.
Federal and state officials say it’s not uncommon for the reimbursement process to take months after a disaster of this scale. Calhoun County has actually received a greater percentage of its share of the funds than have other counties, officials say.
No matter the reason, the delay is making it hard for administrators in the county to pay the $406,234 they owe contractors for the cleanup. Nor does it make it any easier to repay the $1.5 million the county drew from its capital savings fund to pay for the cleanup while waiting on the federal funding to arrive, county officials said.
The county received its most recent reimbursement check on Jan. 19 and paid contractors within the week, but the county hasn’t been able to keep the payments up. The contractors, along with the county, continue to wait on the funding.
“We’re still sitting here with no money to pay contractors,” said Assistant Calhoun County Administrator Faye Robertson. “I would love for them to go ahead and get us some more money turned on.”
The county is expecting another $1,468,640.20 from FEMA, meaning the federal government has repaid 75 percent funding it agreed to dedicate to the debris removal effort. The state funding can’t yet be released for procedural purposes, officials said.
“You have people working as fast as they can,” said Yasamie August, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. “Even with that, it’s going to take some time.”
Calhoun County is in the same position as hard-hit Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties. Like Calhoun County, Jeffeson and Tuscaloosa have received about 75 percent of the federal money the counties are counting on.
And like Calhoun, they’re still waiting for the rest of that money, and for state money, according to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
“In terms of all the counties, they are ahead of the pack,” August said. “Everybody is at a different phase in this process.”
August said some of the smaller projects have been completed and paid for, but due to the magnitude of the disaster that struck the state on April 27, many are still under review.
Mary Olsen, a spokeswoman for FEMA, echoed August’s comments.
“This process, it takes time,” Olsen said. “It can just very based on disaster, based on projects.”
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @ LJohnson_Star.