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UPDATE: Boone County Fire Protection District officials respond to lower FEMA repayment

Friday, July 27, 2012 | 1:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Fire Protection District might have more than half-a-million dollars to purchase new equipment after repaying the Federal Emergency Management Agency a smaller amount than was originally expected. 

The Fire District's tab for overpaying itself for Task Force One activities could be $213,648, Fire Chief Scott Olsen learned in a phone call from a FEMA official last week.

The Fire District set aside $752,453 in 2010 after a June 2009 audit by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found that the Fire District overpaid itself for the preparations and emergency responses to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina by Task Force One. 

Fire District board member Shelly Dometrorch said the money that has been saved will go back into the Fire District’s general operating fund and will help with equipment needs.

“There are any number of things that we’re in desperate need of,” Dometrorch said. “This money isn’t going to be able to do all that — not nearly all of it — but every little bit helps.”

Olsen said there’s more than $800,000 in the capital and contingency fund, from which FEMA will be paid. The account balance is usually a little more than $100,000. “That fund would exist whether we had the audit or not,” Olsen said. “We were very frugal for several years.”

He said the district had forgone fixing up stations and purchasing some new equipment such as a brush truck or new communications technology. While this has put a strain on the department, Olsen said it had not impacted the services the district provides.

“We, like all other departments, want to move forward with new technologies,” he said. “We were hoping it would be a year, but it’s been three.”

When the money will have to be returned to the federal government and why the figure is so much less than first recommended wasn't clear. Dometrorch said the board was waiting to receive documents from FEMA explaining the figure and then will have to decide whether to dispute the amount.

“I don’t know that we would dispute that, but I don’t know how the rest of the board feels. We’ll have to wait and see,” Dometrorch said.

The audit, requested by the FBI, covered the Fire District’s use of FEMA funds from 2000 to 2006. Steve Paulsell, who resigned in November 2009, was fire chief during that time. Sharon Curry, an assistant chief who managed grants for Task Force One during that period, resigned in February 2007.

The previous administration of the Fire District had several problems, Dometrorch said. FEMA’s completion of this audit wraps up those problems.

“The main people who were causing this problem are no longer with us,” Dometrorch said. “This was the last piece of the puzzle.”

The district contested multiple parts of the audit and was waiting for FEMA to complete its own review. Olsen said the Fire District had no knowledge of the specifics of the new figure because it is the result of negotiations between the Office of the Inspector General and FEMA. The Fire District has just provided documents to the agencies.

“We’ve turned our office essentially inside out to find some of this documentation,” Olsen said. “Unfortunately some of that documentation just does not exist.”

The funds the Homeland Security audit recommended be disallowed and repaid by the district included:

  • $118,728 in preparedness costs incurred outside of the approved timeframes.
  • $284,930 in preparedness costs that were inside approved periods but were not properly justified.
  • $63,262 in ineligible replacement personnel costs during Task Force One deployments.
  • $267,952 for unsupported preparedness costs – $183,866 in salary costs and $84,086 in claimed costs without supporting documentation.
  • $17,581 in unsupported labor costs during deployments.

Dometrorch said the changes to the accounting system and oversight of the FEMA grants recommended in the audit had already been made.

“We’ve implemented everything that they wanted us to implement,” Dometrorch said. “We feel like we really, really have our ducks in a row now.”

Olsen said in a news release he expected to receive the detailed report within the next 30 days.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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