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September 16, 2023 | In The News

EDITORIAL: Charlotte County needs FEMA to step up

Sun Port CharlotteOUR POSITION: While Sarasota County readies to spend its millions in Hurricane Ian relief funds, Charlotte County is still waiting to get a check and someone needs to rectify that.

Charlotte County government officials can relate to homeowners still waiting for a Hurricane Ian check from their insurance company.

Charlotte County is still waiting for FEMA to reimburse it for about $100 million in Hurricane Ian expenses and damages. So far, only $22 million has been sent and that was for half the expense of debris cleanup which the county has already paid $44 million for.

“We have spent about $110 million out the door and that does not include any costs of rebuilding that we submitted,” Gordon Burger, director of budget and administrative services for Charlotte County, said. “We have not had an inspector show up yet to look at the rebuilding projects. This could take years.”

Burger, and all county officials, are frustrated. It is all reminiscent of Hurricane Charley when it took the county months and months to get repaid for expenses and then, years later, FEMA tried to claw back some of the money it sent. Thankfully the county won the disputed payout.

“We are under an executive order and 100% funded for the first 120 days (after the hurricane),” Burger said. “So far we have filed claims for four projects and (FEMA) has only validated one. We just sit and wait.”

Burger said the root of the frustration comes from a lack of communication with the people who can make a decision.

“You can never talk to a person who can make a decision,” he said. “They hire contractors who come out and we’re on our fifth contractor now. All of them interpret things differently. But they can’t make a decision and there are so many levels of review, it’s ridiculous.”

Burger said the county has been able to use reserve funds to pay what has to be paid, so far.

U.S. Rep. Greg Steube did his part to try to help the county recently.

Steube, who represents all of Charlotte County along with Sarasota County and portions of Lee County, sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

“Recovery from Ian and recovery from Idalia are inseparable in my district. There is great concern that Charlotte County does not have the adequate funds to recover from Idalia, due largely to having not yet received the appropriate FEMA money from Ian,” Steube said in a news release.

“Charlotte County has incurred significant expenses from Hurricane Ian and has gone to great lengths to work with state and federal officials to recover from the disaster,” the letter states. “As the county is currently working on preliminary damage assessment numbers for Idalia, there is concern that they do not have the adequate funds to recover…”

Burger indicated the county is still adding up any expenses from Hurricane Idalia. We imagine that work will take a backseat to efforts getting FEMA to respond to requests to repay Ian’s expenses.

Burger said he heard Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is asking for information and may get involved.

We would expect him to. He and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, owe it to their constituents to do everything in their power to make counties and cities impacted by both Ian and Idalia whole again.

“We need our federal representatives to be talking to FEMA,” said Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance. “This is not a shell game. These are legitimate government requests.”

FEMA does some great work. We don’t believe their staff is not sympathetic to our problems. But the levels of bureaucracy at the agency have to be tightened up and more attention paid to how to get funds allocated after a major disaster.