Wednesday, May 1, 2013

FEMA and the City's Piggy Bank

The ice storm that hit Sioux Falls in early April was devastating to the trees in Sioux Falls. I have heard many people say that Sioux Falls looked like a war zone. Broken tree branches, people without power, cars and houses hit by trees breaking under inches of ice that bent limbs to the ground. The pictures alone were quite a sight.

The city, has responded to this weather event by initiating the Emergency Operations Center and Operation Timber Strike was born to respond to the event. Give the city a lot of credit for helping out citizens trying to clean up their properties from broken tree limbs. With over 73 square miles of city roadways, 75 parks, 30 miles of bike paths and 35 miles of waterways, the city completed it's first pass of picking up tree branches through out the city by April 25th. Workers are now going back and making additional passes throughout the city. There are still many boulevards where piles of tree branches line the boulevards. The city administration and city workers have done an excellent job of responding to this "disaster."

FEMA is in town. This agency's primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state where the disaster occurred has to declare a state of emergency and make a request to the President that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. When you look at FEMA's website, it says that the Disaster Relief Fund is for recovery efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies that overwhelm State resources.

Even the man leading FEMA's examination, said the clean up efforts in the city are going well and that this was an operation the city should be proud of.

Today's ARGUS LEADER reports FEMA will examine the cost and amount of debris collected to come to a dollar amount of cleanup and recovery costs. That then will go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who will decide whether to ask for a disaster declaration from President Obama.  Daugaard has until May 10 to make that request.  Ron Pevan, who is leading the debris examination efforts on behalf of FEMA, said his cleanup cost estimates will focus only on debris that fell in public areas, such as streets and sidewalks, and not on branches and trees that fell in residents’ yards.

I am wondering if the FEMA officials or the Governor heard the Mayor's State of the City Address on April 25th?  The speech started by pointing out we have much to celebrate and that we have rock solid financials. The mayor said "We've got one unbelievable reserve fund."

The city's reserve fund policy has a target of 25 percent of the assigned and unassigned fund balance. The mayor reported that the reserve fund is at 35.6% totalling 45.2 million dollars. The mayor said, "Our piggy bank is indeed full. We've got 45 million in reserve for rainy days."

It's kind of a quandary, isn't it? We certainly did not face a disaster like when Hurricane Sandy crashed into the shorelines of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut which caused tens of billions of dollars in damage to people and property and who are still in disaster ruin today. Those people on the East Coast are facing a disaster of catastrophic proportions and certainly are in need of FEMA disaster relief funds.

Yes, we can ask for assistance because, well, we can and I suppose we should ask for help.  Everybody does it, right? Why not ask for reimbursement if you can get the Governor to declare the area a disaster. It just seems kind of like an oxymoron to me when the mayor goes before the city council and the public and tells us we have much to celebrate because our piggy bank is full.

This country is facing a magnitude of debt that has crippled the economy of the country. As Americans, we expect our elected officials to act prudently and conservatively in managing the federal budget. The sequester has made massive cuts in the federal budget. FEMA's budget is appropriated in the federal budget. Has this "disaster" overwhelmed state and local resources?

It will be interesting to see if Governor Daugaard asks President Obama for a disaster declaration based on what our mayor says about our rock solid financials and a full piggy bank.