HIGHTSTOWN: Borough officials discuss FEMA payment

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
HIGHTSTOWN – Council discussed a recommendation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a $321,000 payment after Hurricane Irene struck the borough in August 2011.
“We’ve been working on a lot of things with emergency management with FEMA,” said Borough Administrator Henry Underhill.
He said they have been talking about putting in mitigation grants.
The old Borough Hall complex has remained closed since Hurricane Irene hit the town as a tropical storm in 2011.
The municipal staff has been operating out of the Public Works building since. The Police Department has relocated to rented space on Mercer Street.
Following the storm, council meetings have been held at the First Aid Squad building. The Municipal Court operates out of Robbinsville.
“We have to update all our plans to be compliant with the mitigation section,” Mr. Underhill said, after attending a meeting.
He said they had an employee from the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) office came into talk to them about closing out.
“I asked Mr. (George) Lange (chief financial officer) to present an overview, just kind of where we are, how much money have we paid, how much money have we got, and how many things are still out there remaining as far as putting in the actual expenses,” he said.
Mr. Lang said they did two emergencies, for $800,000 each totaling $1.6 million.
“That was the original emergency and we’ve spent quite a bit of money since then on rentals and things like that,” he said.
He said that the borough has paid down some of the debt, which is down to about $747,000.
“For Irene, we originally received some insurance money – approximately $593,000,” he said, adding that on FEMA payments they collected approximately $263,000.
“The latest payment is approved but is still going through the FEMA system, a 10-step system, but it has been recommended for payment,” he said, adding he got the letter of recommendation that was dated Oct. 5.
He said the borough will get this payment of $321,000, some of which is related to the restoration, plus what was originally requested.
“We got an additional $147,000 out what was originally put in on the original request,” he said.
He said they still have other ones “kind of out there.”
“Part of the issue was figuring out what the insurance was going to pay because FEMA is not going to pay us unless they know what the insurance is going to pay us,” he said.
He said that he has been trying to work with the insurance to try and figure a number of detailed schedules and match up right now to see where they are.
“Also look at some of the payments to see where they happened which part of the original approval,” he said. “I’m trying to match that up so we can close out the rest of the FEMA.”
There is a lot of paperwork involved in this in closing up this one project, he said.
“It’s 384 attachments of 384 pages,” he said.
He said the borough is looking at pursing getting money for any of the rental expenses as far as the police or court, including for the temporary buildings.
“Also money related to fixing up the Public Works building so we can use it for administrative offices,” he said. “Remember we bought a trailer. Some of these things we bought out of our budget.”
In January 2013, the council decided to go out to bid for modules that would house temporary offices for municipal employees and the Police Department.
During the July 25, 2013, meeting, council approved an ordinance to appropriate $10,000 from the borough’s general capital fund for all the work and materials necessary for the improvements, including the purchase of office furniture and equipment. A modular classroom from Mobilease was purchased for $18,000, as previously reported.
Mr. Lange said the borough met with three people at FEMA recently “We are moving along on that,” he said.
Any money that the borough is getting from FEMA will first always be dedicated to any of our debts that we have out there, he added.
Mayor Larry Quattrone said that he had a few people come to him and suggest the borough ignore FEMA.
“Obviously, we didn’t ignore them and we are working with them,” Mayor Quattrone said.
Council President Denise “Denny” Hansen said that through the years, the borough wants to be clear that it has been ongoing.
Mr. Lang said that they have dealt with a number of people through the years.
“In my experience of hearing this for four years, we’ve done everything to try and work with FEMA and the insurance companies,” she said. “The problem has been the cooperation on the other side.”
Mr. Underhill said they are continuing to work with whomever FEMA assigns to them.
“We asked to leave the file open . . . so we have asked them not to close on the former municipal building until we have at least discussed some of these new developments that might be available to us,” he said.
He said they sent FEMA something in writing to extend the deadline on the municipal building.