The county was allotted $7.7 million from FEMA through its state counterpart, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, to fund 32 large projects and 184 small projects in the aftermath of the floods, according to an audit from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s office. The audit, which was conducted over a six-month period from January to June, defines a large project as one costing more than $64,200.
The issue at hand is whether the county was reimbursed twice for some of the repair projects: once from FEMA and once from the county’s insurance. Jim Pehrson, the county’s finance director, said the audit was performed before all of the projects had been “closed out” from an accounting standpoint because the county is still waiting for final reports from the federal and state agencies.
When FEMA and GEMA finish with their reports and the county submits its request for reimbursement of its insurance deductible, “the projects will then get closed and we’ll have a final reconciliation of, you know, are there duplications of where the insurance paid us and FEMA (paid us). And then we can reconcile all that,” he said.
After the floods, the county worked with FEMA to identify projects in need of repair and estimate their costs. The county government funded all 216 projects initially, and FEMA reimbursed the county after verifying the work was done completely and up to code.
For example, repairs were made to the athletic fields and concession buildings at Powder Springs Park and equipment at the R.L. Sutton Water Reclamation Facility in Smyrna had to be replaced.
All 216 projects have been completed from a work and repair standpoint, said Roxanne Rush, finance division manager for the county.
The county received $557,943 from its insurance company, the audit states. Federal law does not allow the county to receive FEMA funds if it has received assistance from another source, such as an insurance company. So, the federal agency is trying to recover that amount.
Pehrson said the county acknowledges it received $557,943 from its insurance for some projects. However, he said FEMA only paid the county $367,062 for those projects, so the county does not owe the agency as much as the audit states.
“We can’t send them back more than what they’ve sent us,” he added.
The audit includes a statement about county officials disagreeing with the figure, but states “our position remains unchanged because we based our finding on insurance documentation the county provided to us.”
Additionally, the county is waiting for a reimbursement of $75,456 for two projects the county has already paid for and completed, Pehrson said.
“We agree with the $367,062. And the net amount due to FEMA, after we get what we believe is money (for) two projects still open of $75,456, we would have a net amount due of $291,606,” he said.
FEMA requested additional documentation for these two “open” projects, and the county complied, Rush said. FEMA has not yet issued its final inspection report for the projects, however, so Cobb has not been reimbursed, she added.
Rush said the two open projects are fixing a sinkhole which developed near North Hembree Road, off Shallowford Road, and repairing sewer line damage near Beverly Hills Drive, which is near Wheeler High School.
Pehrson said the county plans to request reimbursement of its insurance deductible, a fact not included in the report.
“We should be eligible to request money from FEMA for the deductible portion of our insurance, which is $1 million. So, we are still going to go forward with the request to FEMA for $750,000 that we had to pay out of pocket for those projects that were covered by insurance. That’s not reflected in this report,” he said.
There are still “a lot of parts left” in the process, Pehrson added.
“Right now, as of today, we feel that with things not being closed out, that there’s insurance duplications with FEMA (totaling) $367,062. We also feel that, as of today, FEMA still owes us for two projects, $75,456 that we’ve yet to receive. We also are waiting on GEMA for a final report for some final funding. We’re also going to make a final reimbursement request for 75 percent of our insurance deductible, which is $1 million.”
The audit also states FEMA should reassign $427,994 budgeted for Cobb County projects which came in under budget. Essentially, FEMA wasn’t required to reimburse the county as much as it thought, so now it can reallocate the funds it had planned to spend.
“We only got paid for what we actually spent, and there’s excess moneys that FEMA allotted for the project that they’re going to now take away from Cobb so they can apply it to another emergency somewhere in the country,” Pehrson said.