Audit says Erie County owes FEMA $48M

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A new audit says Erie County could owe the federal government $48 million for cleanup of the October 2006 surprise storm.

An audit, conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, suggests Erie County should repay FEMA nearly $48-and-a-half million in federal aid, that came in the weeks after the 2006 October Storm.

READ | Inspector General audit saying FEMA should collect $48 million from Erie County

Most of the money was used to pay local contractors, for cleanup and recovery work. The county executive calls the audit "legally wrong."

"Federal law, in affect as of the date of the October 'Surprise' Storm, specifically directs that in federal-declared disasters - which the October 'Surprise' Storm was - local officials give explicit preference for hiring local businesses to perform disaster recovery," Mark Poloncarz argued.

The county executive is referring to two laws, signed earlier in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush. Laws that, Congressman Brian Higgins contends, the people who did the audit should have known about.

"Its central finding is wrong. And it's unfounded," Rep Higgins said. "And we're going to fight this on behalf of Erie County and Western New York, and I'm confident that we will win."

The whole point, Higgins says, was to make it so that help would get to disaster zones faster.

And Joel Giambra, who was county executive when the October Surprise hit, tells News 4, "I will never apologize for putting WNY jobs first."

Poloncarz added, "The auditors are basically saying, 'We don't care what the impact would've been on the community,' by ignoring the law that was in place... I find it shocking."

County officials point out, this is only a recommendation. FEMA has not asked Erie County for a dime.

County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw noted, "This would absolutely devastate Erie County's budget. We have $45 million cash in hand. We'll have $12.5 million in payroll going out this week."

Erie County has 90 days to respond to this audit.

Meantime, Rep. Higgins has sent letters to FEMA and Homeland Security pointing out that the audit is inconsistent with federal law.

Poloncarz very candidly called the whole thing, "silly."

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