Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

The City of Orange is well on its way to being paid off by its insurers for Tropical Storm Harvey damage but more than $2.5 million in FEMA checks still haven’t arrived.

A “Harvey Update” report delivered by City Accounting Manager Sherry Jackson to city council Tuesday showed about $5.2 million in Harvey damage identified so far.

Of that about $200,000 was damage to city vehicles, mostly those run by the fire and police departments, and all but $10,000 in deductibles had been received from the city’s insurer.

Another $480,000 of insured assets damage was filed for by Jackson and her staff and about $410,000 of that had been received.

FEMA claims stand at $4.5 million, but that total should rise substantially once FEMA inspectors finish up their numbers for Orange roads and bridges, and water facilities.

The city hopes to recover from FEMA its insurance deductibles for vehicles, buildings and equipment, and parks.

Nearly $4 million in the city’s Harvey expenses listed by Jackson are for debris pickup. Orange was the only city in the county to have a debris pickup separate from the one coordinated by Orange County.

FEMA had agreed to reimburse 90 percent of those costs with the state’s General Land Office saying it will cover the remaining 10 percent.

FEMA prepaid Orange $1.9 million (an estimated 50 percent) for debris removal. But since the cleanup actually started, the only FEMA check the city has received came last week, City Manager Shawn Oubre said.

It was for $72,250 to pay 100 percent for meals for first responders during the disaster.

Still to be settled are reimbursements for $110,000 for the Orange Fire Department and $121,000 for the Orange Police Department for overtime.

Also the bills include about $165,000 to pay for emergency management, street and sewer departments employees during the disaster.

Council later voted “No” unanimously to taking out a $5 million short-term loan from FEMA.

Oubre insisted it was council’s decision while spelling out best- and worst-case scenarios.

“You’ve paid everything [for Harvey]. You don’t owe anybody any money,” he said to Councilman Brad Childs when he asked about the city’s contingency fund.

“The downside,” Oubre continued, “is we’re already watching another storm right now. It’s too early to tell what’s going to happen.

“But you see how the elected [state and federal] officials say, ‘The money is coming,’ but you can see on paper how slow it is to come.”

Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., spoke for council.

“We’ve paid our debts, but the big thing they hit on day in and day out on social media and the news is ‘Don’t go waste money,’ or ‘Don’t go borrow money.’”

In other action Tuesday, council agreed to consider buyouts of flood-prone properties or allowing homeowners to raise the elevation of their land and rebuild.

It was just the first step in the process – a head count of interested communities by the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission – with SETRPC to fill in details later.

The council approved annexation of a property at 9590 I-10, between FM 1136 and Texas 62, and to provide $192,000 in EDC infrastructure reimbursement, plus three years of 100 percent tax abatement for PATV Powersports & Offroad.

The company is actually an expansion of Performance ATV, which will continue to operate at FM 1442 and Texas 105 until the $1.3 million, 18,000-square foot building on I-10 is completed in a year or so. The extra space will allow owner Brent Richey’s company to add a retail side that will sell Polaris, Can-Am and Seadoo all-terrain vehicles and wave riders.

Richey predicts $4 million in annual sales with a full-time staff of 15 and about 10 working part-time.

Council also approved purchase of a $52,000 chiller for Orange Public Library, an additional $15,000 to Schaumburg and Polk for engineering on an EDC project to prep a retail site at 16th Street and I-10, and $18,000 to purchase a used 5-10 military truck for high-water rescues.

The vote was to reject May bids on a Cooper’s Gully Concrete Lining project that has been in the works since 2012.

City Works Director Jim Wolf said bids received exceeded the $2.9 million budgeted for the construction, so the project’s state architect would shorten the length of the project and re-advertise for new bids.