Calhoun County taxpayers could wind up footing a hefty bill according to an alarming grant report presented during a county commission meeting Monday afternoon.
Commission Chairman Thomas Flowers had Attorney Matt Fuqua read a series of emails from officials at the Florida Department of Emergency Management regarding FEMA road projects from 2008-09. The emails referred to numerous ineligible expenses totalling $751,000.
The information came to light after it was discovered an estimated 80 road projects from 2008-09 had not been closed. Angie Smith, who now serves as emergency management director, was instructed to get the projects closed out when she was promoted to the position at the end of 2012. She has already sent 20 to 25 of the projects for closeout and is working diligently on the remaining projects.
As explained during the board meeting, when the county applies for FEMA grants, a scope of work is included detailing all proposed expenditures.
Anything not included in that scope of work is off limits. However, according to reports, pipes, sod, seed and mulch were not included in the scope of work prepared by Sonny O’Bryan who served as grants coordinator and emergency management director at the time.
O’Bryan did have an opportunity to amend those scope of work documents by submitting change orders. According to information presented at the board meeting, that was not the case in the projects currently under review.
Most troubling is the fact that the emails reference “animated” conversations with O’Bryan and state officials back in 2004-05 advising him that the items were ineligible.
Commissioner Darrell McDougald remarked, “If you get $20 millon in road grants and spend $1 million, that’s a heck of a deal...we’ve paid back million dollar loans before. I’m not trying to make light of it, but it’s not a disaster either.”
The bulk of funds were paid in reimbursements back when the projects were underway, but expenses are closely reviewed by a FEMA panel during the closeout process. The board must now wait for FEMA’s decision to learn if Calhoun County will be forced to return funds for ineligible expenses.