Ocean County freeholder pleads with FEMA to pick up the full tab for towns' storm recovery
Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari is calling on state and federal officials to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pick up the 25 percent in storm recovery costs that would be the responsibility of municipalities.
“We need to get mobilized, and this is going to take longer than we thought and the towns cannot afford to pay the 25 percent,” said Vicari, who wrote a letter earlier this month asking for help.
FEMA typically covers 75 percent of storm-related recovery costs, and municipalities are required to pick up the other 25 percent, Vicari said.
“If they have to pay the 25 percent, which towns can’t afford, they will have to bond for it, and that will have a ripple effect on the towns and taxes will increase,” he said. “The essence of Ocean County is private home ownership, and we have to help the people rebuild and give them the incentive to go home.”
Vicari wrote the letter to Marc Ferzan, former assistant attorney general, who was selected last month by Gov. Chris Christie to head up overseeing storm recovery.
Ferzan did not return a call for comment this week, and Vicari said he has not received a response to the letter.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said Vicari’s letter was received by the Governor’s Office and is under review.
Earlier this month, Christie requested that the federal government approve 100 percent reimbursement for state and local government costs associated with debris removal and emergency protective measures following Hurricane Sandy for a period of at least 90 days. In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Christie stated that the storm has created “untenable” financial and economic hardships for municipalities.
In his letter, Vicari notes that the county’s $4 billion tourism industry is at stake, concerns Christie has echoed.
“This is going be an interesting year, 2013,” Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said. “We have about a $38 million budget and we anticipate over $20 million just in debris removal, and if we have to pick up 25 percent of that, it’s $5 million,” he said.
Stafford, like other municipalities, is looking at a potential loss of ratables on top of 25 percent in cleanup costs — which could bankrupt a town, he said.
“It could take years to get money from FEMA, and right now everything has to be paid and we have to borrow to pay the bills,” he said.
Little Egg Harbor Township Mayor John Kehm said township workers have picked up 20 million pounds of debris so far, which could cost a large amount to remove if they have to cover 25 percent of the cost.
The township will continue to pick up debris until the end of the month, Kehm said.
“We’re looking at cleanup and damage costs up to $10 million, and it could be more after it’s all said and done. There was a lot of damage to the township alone. A lot of vehicles were damaged between public works, police and administration,” Kehm said.
The township spent about $3 million last month on cleanup, he said.
Township Administrator Garrett Loesch said Thursday that 10 township vehicles have been totaled and six more are expected to also be total losses and will need to be replaced.
“With our $21 million budget, having to spend 25 percent on storm-recovery costs could have a serious effect. We weren’t planning on a disaster like this,” Kehm said. “The federal government has to fork up the rest of that money because we’re already in an economic crisis. And what do we have to do, raise taxes? We don’t want to do that. People are already hurting.”
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