St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday will consider approval of some Hurricane Matthew-related recovery projects that are eligible for federal and state monies, albeit with requirements for local match funds.
Projects include repairing and restoring roads and other infrastructure in Summer Haven, addressing damage to county buildings and assets, and making various repairs at parks countywide as well as minor repairs at the Vilano Beach Fishing Pier and Shands Pier.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program, the county is qualified for up to a 75 percent reimbursement on eligible costs associated with Matthew. The state generally reimburses up to 12.5 percent of eligible expenses, leaving the county with the remaining 12.5 percent share of the costs.
According to backup materials for the agenda item, the county estimates the eligible costs for this particular group of projects will be over $11.3 million. FEMA is expected to pitch in about $8.5 million while the state and county would each contribute about $1.4 million.
The big ticket item is a $8.5 million project in the north end of Summer Haven that will include repair and restoration of roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The county’s share is expected to be a little over $1 million, accounting for the bulk of Tuesday’s request. These monies and another $197,000 for a similar project in the south end of Summer Haven would come out of the Transportation Trust Fund.
Repairs and improvements to utility lines, lift stations, building and fencing encompass two project requests totaling more than $489,000. About $61,000 is expected to come out of the county’s Utility reserves for those efforts.
Projects at parks in all four quadrants of the county are expected to cost just over $158,000, with just under $20,000 coming out of the county’s General Fund.
The county’s official damage assessment to FEMA, originally submitted in the wake of the storm, totaled about $174.8 million. That number included about $120 million in sand and dune losses within the coastal region.
In May, however, following an extensive review of the data, updated assessments came in around $112.7 million. That number includes just $70 million in sand and dune losses.
If current estimates hold, the county could be on the hook for about $5.1 million for projects reimbursed through the FEMA Public Assistance Program, but that does not include any sand replacement. County officials have also said just because sand is gone doesn’t mean all of it will be restored.
Commission Chair Jimmy Johns has repeatedly asked what will happen when the next hypothetical storm comes through and the county no longer has its reserves on which to fall back. On numerous occasions, he has expressed a desire to wean the county off its dependence on reserves, even calling for a version of next year’s budget that would be balanced without dipping into any of those funds.
Jesse Dunn, director of management and budget, has said the county was lucky to have reserves that were generally in good shape heading into the storm. He’s also told commissioners reserves aren’t specifically built up for hurricanes or other disasters but that this could be changed through policy.
Commissioners can also choose not to proceed with or expedite certain contracts in the wake of storms, such as the quickened and expanded debris recovery effort that was approved by commissioners early on after Matthew.
Officials have said the FEMA reimbursement process will likely take years to complete. Other potential grants from federal and state agencies are also in play.
On Tuesday, commissioners will also be reviewing the recommended budget for next year.