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City facing long list of repairs, uncertainty about aid following Hurricane Matthew

 

Date: December 06, 2016
Source: The St. Augustine Record
Author:  Sheldon Gardner

 

The city of St. Augustine plans to move forward quickly with permanent hurricane repairs that could cost millions overall, and officials are looking for support from the City Commission.

Following Hurricane Matthew, the city made emergency repairs and removed storm debrisand now is turning to making permanent repairs to infrastructure. The city is also dealing with uncertainty about financial impacts of the storm.

According to a memo from city budget director Meredith Breidenstein, the idea is to use reserves set aside for emergencies for the repairs, and then use any Federal Emergency Management Agency or state reimbursements to help replenish the funds. But it’s unclear how much will be reimbursed.

“None of these are wish list items” Breidenstein said about the repairs. “These are all things that have to be fixed. We don’t want to wait until six months to a year.”

The City Commission is expected to weigh in on the plan at its regular meeting on Monday, which will begin at 5 p.m. at 10 Hildreth Drive. The meeting will temporarily be at this location because of damages to City Hall.

Among the projects planned is the replacement of two sewage pump stations, according to Breidenstein.

The city also wants to have a consultant investigate other pump stations for salt corrosion. For those projects, $1.23 million would be drawn from utility fund reserves, according to Breidenstein. That fund has a balance of about $6.3 million.

The city wants to repair Lake Maria Sanchez Weir Controls for $20,000, drawing from Stormwater Fund reserves of more than $1.5 million.

The remaining projects would come from General Fund reserves of about $8.1 million. From that, the city would restore the Lighthouse Avenue bulkhead for $210,000, repair the lighthouse fishing pier and boat dock for $80,000, repair city buildings for $205,000, replace a fire boat for $150,000, repair street lights and street signs for $50,000, and replace landscaping for $100,000.

The cost estimates could change, officials said.

“Upon approval, this permanent work will begin,” according to Breidenstein. “Again, each of the items … will be submitted to FEMA for reimbursement. Because this process will take time, the ability to use our reserves in the interim will ensure that our systems and assets will get back to their ‘pre-storm condition’ as soon as possible.”

The St. Augustine Municipal Marina breakwater is also being repaired.

For work during and after the storm so far, the cost is believed to be in the millions.

The cost of debris removal is estimated to be $2.5 million, including contractual labor, city personnel and tipping fees, according to Breidenstein. The cost of emergency protective services is estimated to be $1.3 million, including for equipment, emergency infrastructure repairs — and police, fire and utility personnel.

The city will also apply for FEMA reimbursements for those costs, according to Breidenstein.

What projects FEMA will reimburse hasn’t been decided. That uncertainty helped lead the city to delay a bond refunding project until January, said Mark Litzinger, financial services director for the city.

Greg Hughes, FEMA spokesman for St. Johns County, said FEMA will determine whether to reimburse 75 percent of the city’s cost of repairs.

“[The program is] for culverts, roads, bridges, any public, taxpayer-paid …. building that might need repair,” Hughes said.

The state could cover some of the remaining cost, he said. Hughes said the goal is to reimburse as quickly as possible, and reimbursements could come as early as 90 days after work is finished.

The city will also have to deal with other impacts, like changes to city parking and marina revenues, and possible changes in ad valorem tax revenue, according to Litzinger.

There have been other effects, too.

“Normally, the city would be much further along with developing scopes of work and/or bidding 2017 budget items,” according to Litzinger. “Instead, resources for procurement, including project managers, purchasing, legal, finance and budgeting are developing projects and contacts for recovery projects that must strictly conform to [federal] procurement standards for potential FEMA reimbursement.”

Litzinger expects the commission to receive updates in January about any needed adjustments to the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan, as well as updates about the 2017 budget and action items, reserve balances and the financial impact of Hurricane Matthew, according to his memo.