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San Anselmo Looks to Resolve Dispute with FEMA Over $1.6 Million in Flood Reimbursements

Town Manager Debbie Stutsman said the town didn't spend any funds improperly after the 2005 flood and that the FEMA disaster grant rules are difficult to interpret.

A federal report has accused San Anselmo town officials of improperly spending federal funds awarded for recovery work after the December 2005 flooding that impacted multiple public facilities. 

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General recently released a December 2012 report saying they couldn’t “verify the validity” of more than 40 percent of the nearly $1.6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) Grant Funds for which the town is seeking reimbursement.

The dispute centers on two types of alleged funds: those not adequately supported by documentation, which covers the bulk of the disputed funds, as well as those that simply aren't eligible for reimbursement, such as more than $26,000 to replace equipment like computers and phones that weren't damaged by the disaster. The dispute centers on $659,718 of the nearly $1.6 million requested.

"The claim includes costs that are unsupported or ineligible for PA funding, and the Town’s records were insufficient to provide an audit trail in support of the claim,” according to the report. “As a result, we question the Town’s claim in its entirety.”

The authorities haven’t completed a final audit of the town’s use of the funds, but did identify “systemic accounting and documentation issues” in an appeal the town made for additional funds, according to the report.  

The so-called “issues” required immediate attention and caused the agency to question all of the town’s claims, according to Office of Emergency Management Oversight Assistant Inspector General D. Michael Beard, who authored the report titled, “The Town of San Anselmo, California, Did not Properly Account for and Expend FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Funds.”  

TOWN MANAGER: FEMA RULES ARE DIFFICULT, CONTRADICTORY

San Anselmo Town Manager Debbie Stutsman told Patch the town did nothing wrong.

“The town takes its fiscal responsibilities very seriously and does not agree that the grant funds were expended improperly,” she wrote to Patch in an e-mail. “Town staff did its best to ensure that all record-keeping was maintained as required and that funds were expended only for legitimate flood damaged equipment and structures.” 

Stutsman said town staff worked “extraordinarily hard, during a very difficult time,” to follow the FEMA rules for disaster assistance. “The FEMA rules are voluminous, often contradictory and difficult to interpret,” she said.  

San Anselmo Creek flooded during the December 2005 storms, overwhelming the town's storm and sanitary sewer infrastructure. San Anselmo’s Police Station, City Council chambers and Town Hall lobby were flooded with two feet of water.

The town hired an outside consulting firm after the flood to ensure all the “repair work, documentation and equipment replaced was done according to FEMA rules,” Stutsman said. 

According to the 2008 San Anselmo Flood Mitigation Plan, the 2005 flood left the downtown area under 4-and-a-half feet of water and mud. The flood damaged roughly 150 business and more than 300 homes.

ADDITONAL CLAIMS DENIED

FEMA ultimately gave a green light for the town to receive $830,672 for disaster relief, but when town officials completed repair projects they submitted a claim totaling $1.6 million — $769,105 more than FEMA had originally approved. 

FEMA denied the request for additional funds, but San Anselmo has appealed the denial. Since then, federal officials have been meticulously auditing the town’s expenses — which resulted in the December OIG report.

The report says some of the town’s disaster claims were not eligible for federal funds or lacking supporting documentation and justification.

According to the report, the town’s disaster claims included $577,961 in unsupported costs, including:

  • $495,107 to repair the town’s police station, council chambers and lobby because repair costs were not separated to specific FEMA-eligible tasks in billings.
  • $40,416 to replace to police motorcycles damaged by the disaster. Federal officials said the town lacks written justification of the cost effectiveness of replacing versus repairing the equipment, which was less than three years old.
  • $42,438 for labor costs for disaster work because the town didn’t have all the timecards and other details

The report also highlighted $81,757 not eligible for disaster assistance, including:

  • $32,705 in charges for services rendered to restore the town’s police station
  • $26,116 for equipment that wasn’t damaged by the disaster, because town officials worked to save the equipment before the flood. A photo in the report shows equipment placed on surfaces that would have been above the two feet of water that flooded the police station
  • $20,000 for the transfer of a 911 emergency system, because it was paid by another source
  • $5,080 in utility costs because they are general operating costs
  • $7,626 for portable restroom rentals because they were charges for a period not covered by the disaster

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS SUBMITTED NOT INCLUDED IN REPORT

San Anselmo officials discussed some of the report findings in fall 2012 with OIG and the California Emergency Management Agency representatives. 

Stutsman said the town submitted more than 150 pages of additional documentation for the claims in October 2012, which wasn’t taken into account for the report released in December.

Stutsman said a follow-up meeting was anticipated in November 2012, before OIG rescheduled it to January 2013. Earlier this month, the meeting was again rescheduled to March. 

The San Anselmo 2008 flood mitigation plan mentions its difficulties with FEMA disaster claims: 

“Public Assistance recovery in San Anselmo following the 2005/2006 winter storms has been slow and tedious. The Town has successfully appealed seven major disaster claims that were initially denied by FEMA. In spite of this, the repair and reconstruction of the Town’s damaged facilities [was] still not complete two years later. FEMA errors in deductions for anticipated insurance proceeds have resulted in countless delays in receiving timely payments for reconstruction projects.”

 

Check out what else is on San Anselmo - Fairfax Patch:

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  • Fairfax Officials: ‘Town’ Flyer Circulating is Erroneous
  • Mill Valley Man Recounts New Year's Eve Rescue on Mount Tam
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Click here to see what you’re missing on the San Anselmo - Fairfax Patch Facebook page.

andreas January 28, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Knock knock! -Who"s there? -FEMA! -FEMA who? (No response....)
Matthew Brasler January 28, 2013 at 09:11 PM
A perfect example of the mess that we all face regarding FEMA. It has the jurisdiction to unilaterally amend the flood map, triggering additional insurance for everyone affected. But in the event of an incident, when it comes time to make a claim, the agency is "contradictory and difficult to interpret". Seven years later, the funds have yet to be released and the Town and homeowners are left holding the bag. If the Town of San Anselmo, with a Consultant in tow, can not adhere to FEMA's guidelines, then how can an individual homeowner be expected to get help? All the while insurance premiums continue to funnel into the system. But wait ... FEMA is not an insurance company ... they are a Federal Agency here to help its constituents.
Michael January 31, 2013 at 11:07 PM
FEMA ultimately gave a green light for the town to receive $830,672 for disaster relief, but when town officials completed repair projects they submitted a claim totaling $1.6 million — $769,105 more than FEMA had originally approved. Statements like this always puzzle me. Someone is not telling the truth. If the FEMA statement is true then the city is not being honest or is ignorant. If it is visa versa then FEMA is not telling the truth. The one thing I will agree with is that the rules and regulations from groups like FEMA are so utterly complicated now that they force groups like the city to spend precious tax dollars on so called 'consultants' just to try and figure out what the heck the rules and requirements are. And did you ever see where a consultant was held accountable for any fines levied against a city when their 'expert opinion' was wrong? No, just pass the cost onto taxpayers. This story is a good example of just how perverted, cumbersome and ridiculous many of our federal systems are. And our elected officials do absolutely nothing to clean them up. All they do is add more regulations and legislation on top of the growing garbage pile. Wow.

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