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Commission still waiting on FEMA funds

With economic conditions already taking a bite out of Escambia County’s budget, Commissioners say the funding in the road department is “strained” waiting on FEMA funding.

During Monday’s meeting of the Escambia County Commission, County Engineer Bill Bridges said emergency repair funding had been approved through the Federal Highway Administration for work on County Road 27.

“We have been approved to put a project north of Sardis Church Road,” Bridges said. “Since the funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration, we have to let it out for bids.”

Although the work on County Road 27 has been approved, Commissioners said residents should not confuse FHWA funds with FEMA funds. FEMA funding to make full repairs on damages caused by the December 2009 flooding has not been approved and could be delayed for some time.

County Commissioner Larry White said FEMA funding delays have put a strain on the road department’s budget and have put many projects of the department on hold.

“The delay in FEMA funding is the hold up on some our projects in the road department,” White said. “That funding is being held up in Congress and means that about 80 percent of our projects will be held up, too.”

White said the strain on the road department’s budget is a direct result of the delay in FEMA funding approval.

“The road department funding is really strained right now,” White said. “Some of the projects that have been approved for work have been done, but we have not been reimbursed for that work by FEMA.”

White said he has received updates on the FEMA funding issue through his contacts in Washington and has been assured the process is moving. The bill to approve the funding is being moved through, but has some issues that continue to cause delays in final approval, he said.

“The litigation is stalled on this bill,” White said. “The House bill is passed and the Senate bill has passed, but they are not the same bill. There will have be reconciliation to pull the bill together. We are victims of some political posturing in Washington.”

White said he has been told that the bill will be funded but it will take some time.

“They are telling me that it will be funding,” White said. “But, right now this delay is tying up funds and putting a strain on the budget.”

Commission Chairman David Stokes praised White for his efforts to follow up on information concerning funds expected by the county through FEMA.

“We’re all doing as much as possible to see that these projects are done and what you’re doing is important,” Stokes told White. “I don’t think there is anybody in the state of Alabama that knows more about what’s going on in Washington than you do.”