Millions of dollars are at stake in The Villages’ pursuit of reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damage from Hurricane Irma.
The Villages District Office has been meticulously tracking the costs of cleanup from the September hurricane, including debris collection, staff hours and other costs.
Community Development District officials continued to receive updates on Friday with regard to the cleanup after the powerful hurricane. District staff fielded numerous questions from supervisors during four CDD meetings.
Supervisors acknowledged they have been hounded by angry and confused residents in the weeks since the hurricane.
CDD 1 Supervisor Charles Amante said that reliance on Alabama-based Crowder Gulf Inc. as opposed to a local contractor put residents in a difficult position. Crowder Gulf Inc.’s subcontractors headed south for more lucrative work and Villagers grew angrier and angrier as debris from the storm remained uncollected.
“They left us short handed,” Amante said.
However, Villages Administrative Operations Manager Diane Tucker said FEMA requires the use of outside contractors.
“Because they are not directly impacted by the event,” Tucker explained.
That contractor can then hire local subcontractors.
“However, the subcontractors can up and leave,” she said.
CDD 2 Supervisor Gail Lazenby suggested shoring up the contract to force the vendor to live up to the terms of the deal.
“They left us high and dry,” Lazenby said.
CDD 1 Supervisor Craig Estep acknowledged that FEMA can be a “nightmare” to deal with in the aftermath of a significant event.
“You have to cross every ’t’ and dot every ‘i’,” Estep said.
Residents who have complained about debris would get sticker shock if the District had to pay for the cleanup without FEMA reimbursement, said CDD 1 Supervisor Kathy Porter.
“People have no idea how much it would cost if the residents had to pick up the tab,” Porter said.
She said residents would see a spike in their maintenance assessment fees if the District didn’t fight for FEMA reimbursement.
She also said that Hurricane Irma exposed how planning fell short in areas such as providing emergency shelters. Providing shelters is a county responsibility.
“Residents need to take their (county) commissioners to task,” she said.
CDD 2 Chairman John Blum said Villages Recreation Director John Rohan and Ralph Bari of the Special Events staff made a bad situation much better when Paradise Recreation Center was opened as a last-minute shelter on the Historic Side of The Villages.
“They did a lot of work and ought to be recognized,” Blum said.
CDD 4 Supervisor Jim Murphy said that there is still debris in his district, including debris at postal stations and leaves in storm drains.
He said residents deserve a timetable of when they can expect the debris to be cleaned up.
“We need to do better for our residents,” added CDD 4 Supervisor Don Deakin.