Broward News

UPDATED: Audit Questions $15 million in FEMA Funds Fort Lauderdale Spent After Hurricanes

The Broward School Board is not alone in facing scrutiny for the millions of dollars in federal disaster funding it received after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. Federal auditors have also questioned $15.1 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds that the City of Fort Lauderdale spent after the 2005 storms.

According to a Department of Homeland Security audit released last month, the disputed costs came from "excess funding for debris removal activities...unreasonable contract charges; unsupported costs; small projects not implemented; excessive contract costs; and duplicate charges."

The auditors reviewed $46.4 million the city received from FEMA after the hurricanes. The lion's share of the questionable costs -- $11.7 million -- came from debris removal that the feds said was not eligible for funding because city officials didn't get the projects approved ahead of time.  

"These activities consisted of tree, waterway, and beach debris removal, and sand screening, which had not been identified as eligible activities under the project worksheets," the audit says.

City officials asked for an extension of time to provide documentation proving the charges were legit, but the auditors declined, saying any new documents would require additional FEMA review.

Other eyebrow-raising findings in the audit included:

-$1 million in labor charges that were not supported by documents such as time and attendance records.
-The city overpaid by $2 million for some debris removal.

-When paying for debris to be transported to a landfill,  $16,235 of the "tipping fee" tickets were duplicated.In other words, the city paid twice for the service, and failed to notice.

Chaz Adams, spokesman for the city, said he would research the audit and provide a comment two weeks ago. Contacted by New Times again this morning, he still has not provided a response. We'll update when he does.

UPDATE: Adams says city officials are planning to submit additional documentation to FEMA showing that the $11.7 million in debris removal costs were appropriate. He says FEMA officials have been "very receptive" in their talks with city officials, and have agreed to review the new information.

"We're very confident that we acted appropriately," Adams says. "We will address the issues raised in the report."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab