North Hempstead disputes audit of post-Sandy efforts

The Island Now

Town of North Hempstead officials are disputing an audit released Friday that called for the town to give back $9.9 million it received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Superstorm Sandy for disaster recovery projects.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the audit, which was conducted by the inspector general’s office for the Department of Homeland Security, was “deeply flawed.”
“We trust that FEMA will find that no money should be recovered based on this deeply flawed report,” Bosworth said. “We believe that FEMA will recognize that we followed procedures and were careful custodians of the federal disaster relief funds.”
The audit reviewed four projects that totaled $20.9 million in FEMA funding. In total, the town received $36.6 million for 30 Superstorm Sandy-related projects aimed to remove debris and complete emergency work.
The inspector general’s office said the town expended about $4.9 million on contracts for debris removal that did not meet federal standards, about $3.2 million for costs claimed twice, about $562,000 for “unsupported costs” and about $405,000 for “costs that insurance paid.”
Additionally, the inspector general’s office said that the town spent about $791,000 less than what it received for a project that was completed in October 2013.
Town officials said the $4.9 million in contracts were authorized under state law and approved by FEMA for emergency debris removal projects.
“Debris removal was an emergency after Sandy and we think that FEMA will agree, even if auditors think that our town residents should have been driving around fallen trees and debris for months following the hurricane,” Bosworth said.
Officials of the town and the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which oversees federal assistance grants, said the town had corrected an error in which it made a duplicate $3.2 million payment and the project cost was removed before the funds were released.
The inspector general’s office said the town did not provide documentation supporting $562,387 in expenses by the town’s Solid Waste Management Authority for equipment and administrative costs during debris removal.
Town and state officials both disputed this claim, stating that the town “provided a spreadsheet summary and has records to show GPS location and fuel use by SWMA employees during the emergency clean-up period.”
The town also disputed the inspector general office’s finding that a $405,158 insurance claim was paid by FEMA, stating that it was instead paid by the town’s insurer.
In a letter to the inspector general’s office, Deputy Town Supervisor Aline Khatchadourian said the auditors only identified “$5.5 million in potential costs to be recovered” and that the report contained “overstatements” that “unfairly cast the town in a negative light.”
Khatchadourian said the $3.2 million duplicate payment was already resolved, the $405,158 claim was already paid by the town’s insurer and the $791,175 that the town did not spend on a project was not received by the town, and thus there was no money to recover.
An anonymous source from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services told Newsday that the inspector general’s office “seemed to be way too early in their assessment of finding problems that did not exist.”
FEMA is reviewing the audit and is expected to release a response by Oct. 31.
If it orders the town to give back the money, the town would have 60 days to appeal the decision.

By Joe Nikic

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