Howard hopes to recoup storm funds

With budget woes, FEMA's reimbursement is needed

October 16, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County residents escaped Tropical Storm Isabel's damaging floods, but county officials estimate they spent $900,310 for emergency overtime, equipment rentals and to repair road damage.

Raquel Sanudo, Howard's chief administrative officer, said the county is trying to determine how much of the expense is eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Maryland was declared a disaster area by President Bush the day after the Sept. 18 storm, meaning the county can recoup up to 75 percent of eligible costs.

"We lucked out," Sanudo said of escaping the floods that damaged dozens of homes in Fells Point and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. But power outages, downed trees and damaged roads still troubled Howard County residents.

Howard's highway crews continue to remove debris from the storm and from a heavy downpour that followed several days later, said James M. Irvin, the county public works director.

Sanudo said that applying for federal reimbursement is complicated and takes weeks. "The paperwork is horrendous," she said. Howard County has yet to receive a $250,000 check for reimbursement for emergency spending during February's record-breaking snowstorm.

The amount might not seem huge, but with another shortage of income tax revenue feared this year, county Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said getting financial assistance "would be a big help. In the situation we're in right now, every bit of reimbursement would help."

According to a chart prepared by county officials, the Police Department spent $204,000 in overtime for officers directing traffic at intersections without working signals, keeping people away from downed wires and tree limbs and helping safeguard low-lying areas prone to flooding.

Public Works spent $139,100 on labor, $185,900 on equipment and $32,500 to repair Sylvan Lane, a small street near Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, where heavy rain badly eroded an embankment on the street's shoulder.

William F. Malone Jr., the county highways chief, said his crews built an emergency access road in Elkridge to give residents of Harwood Park a way to get from Santa Barbara Drive, in the neighboring Route 100 Industrial Park, onto Athol Avenue and avoid roadways in the flood plain.

"We're still clearing up the remnants" of downed tree limbs and debris, Malone said.

Irvin said the county rented equipment and trucks from contractors to provide emergency electricity and to help clear blocked roads.

The Department of Fire and Rescue Services spent $200,000 on extra labor and equipment.

Susan Rosenbaum, deputy director of citizen services, said the county opened two emergency shelters during the storm, at the National Guard Armory on Montgomery Road in Ellicott City and at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge, which is near vulnerable mobile home communities.

"We had 18 people, a wide range of people," at the armory the Thursday night of the storm, she said, adding that no one went to the school because feared river flooding never materialized.

The armory shelter was opened again Friday night, she said, but no one showed up. In addition to six county employees needed to set up and supervise the shelters, volunteers helped staff emergency phone lines and were on call if an emergency developed, Rosenbaum said.

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