In the right place

Published 1:25 am Saturday, September 24, 2011

Experience is a great teacher. Washington’s experience with storm-related recovery in recent years is serving it well as it recovers from Hurricane Irene.
In the days before the hurricane struck eastern North Carolina, Washington officials set up special accounts to keep track of expenditures related to dealing with Hurricane Irene. Prior experience taught city officials that federal government agencies and state government agencies, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would require accurate, detailed records of storm-related expenses. Local governments are entitled to be reimbursed for some of those expenses.
Local government officials and others were given a refresher course Tuesday on what they need to do to be reimbursed for eligible expenditures related to Hurricane Irene.
Kathleen Murray, a public-assistance coordinator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office in Atlanta, explained the public-assistance grant process to Beaufort County officials, representatives of several of the county’s municipalities and others who attended a meeting at Washington’s Municipal Building.
So when those  FEMA officials showed up Tuesday to explain what would be required of local governments so they could receive grants to pay for eligible recovery expenses, Washington was already moving in the right direction because of those special accounts being set up.
“We’re continuing to keep an accurate track of those dollars,” City Manager Josh Kay said after that meeting. “The special accounting was set up so we could track it from point A to point B.”
That’s what FEMA wants — accurate, detailed information. The faster it gets the data it needs, the faster FEMA is able to reimburse the city.
“That figure is still developing. We are still picking up storm debris. We are still doing some electrical work, cleaning up the debris that was left, that our contractors left, cutting on services,” Kay said. “Planning and inspections are still working with businesses and homes. So, our number continues to grow.”
Setting up those accounts was as important to helping the city recover from the storm as other preparations it made. FEMA should appreciate the city’s effort to keep track of storm-related expenses.
The city’s decision about two years ago to earmark up to $2 million of its fund balance for storm-recovery expenses was a smart move, also. It assured the city had the money needed to begin immediate recovery operations.
Those preparations put the city ahead, not behind, in the recovery process.
That’s a good place to be.