The City of Miami is contemplating the use of a federal program that would expedite public assistance to state and local governments for storm debris removal - but, city leaders have not yet fully endorsed the idea.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency program, recently adopted by the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management, would quicken the pace of grant funding through estimating the city's cost up-front and extending funds immediately.
The advantage, according to interim city manager Tim Wilson, is that the city would get not have to foot the bill and then wait for reimbursement.
Damage assessements and debris assessments would be conducted up-front, the city would negotiate an agreeable funding amount and the check would be provided within days, Wilson said.
Additionally, FEMA is expanding its list of allowable expenses for the program which will reimburse the city for 75 percent of its cost.
Where traditionally applicants could only submit costs for overtime, the pilot project will allow the city will be reimbursed for regular-time salaries and benefits of permanently employed staff members that perform debris-related activities. The city's in-kind work can be calculated toward its responsibiity to pay 12.5 percent of cleanup cost.
The disadvantage, according to Wilson, is that, if FEMA's grant falls short, the city will have to rely on its own funds to make up the difference.
“It is a roll of the dice,” Wilson said. “But, it could benefit the city.”
FEMA officials were in Miami last week to estimate debris and begin negotiating an agreeable grant, according to city engeinner Jerry Ruse. But, currently, the city is not satisfied with what FEMA is offering.
Federal and state officials are encouraging Miami's participation in the pilot project as FEMA wants to test its value in northeast Oklahoma where storm damage was significant.
Right now, according to Ruse, the city and FEMA are about $200,000 apart on what each considers an acceptable grant amount.
Ruse said there is about a 1,000-piece difference on where each side sees the number of hanging limbs and about a 2,000-ton difference in the estimated volume of debris.
“It is like negotiating for a new car,” Wilson said. “If we are not happy, we are not going to do it … We do not want to short-change ourselves.”
If the city opts out of the pilot program, it will default to the traditionally method of reimbursement - the method which used after the July flood. Reimbursements for those cleanup expenses are just now coming in.
Mayor Brent Brassfield noted the delay in funding as well as assessment of damage that is still growing.
“In the flooding, we continue to be assessed damage that we didn't know originally,” he said.
The council took no action on the matter Monday as they met in regular session.
Ruse said an agreed-upon grant figure could be available as early as today.
Council members will revisit the issue when apprised of FEMA's offer.
At the county level
Ottawa County Commission members will discuss their debris cleanup options today, including their potential participation in the pilot program.
The three-member panel could may also decide on a contractor to take the lead in debris removal.
That discussion was tabled from last week.