More than $500,000 of DeKalb flood disaster relief funding questioned


DeKalb County may have to repay as much as $505,000 worth of federal disaster relief money provided after major flooding six years ago, according to a federal audit.

The county lacked adequate documentation showing it spent the money on approved projects, including repairs of roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged by heavy storms in September 2009, according to the Nov. 19 audit by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

DeKalb received a $3.3 million public assistance grant, and the $505,549 amount questioned by the audit represents 15 percent of the total.

The audit doesn’t allege that DeKalb misspent federal funds. Instead, it faults the county for poor accounting practices, incomplete information about costs and inadequate record-keeping.

County officials said they believe they’ll be able to explain most of the spending, which would significantly reduce the amount pursued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The vast majority of these funds can be substantiated, and we look forward to presenting that information to the inspector general,” said DeKalb spokesman Burke Brennan. “We believe we have the supporting documentation they requested, which would validate the charges.”

FEMA will decide how much money to recover from DeKalb after the county provides a response to the audit.

“They’re going to have an opportunity to provide additional information,” said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak. “It’s a routine part of the process to make sure taxpayer dollars are properly expended and properly accounted for.”

The largest portion of DeKalb’s disputed spending — $404,556 — was questioned because the county couldn’t provide supporting documentation. A according to the audit these expenses are being reviewed:

     
  • $260,186 went toward contracting work at a pumping station, but DeKalb didn’t indicate details of work and costs authorized by FEMA.
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  • DeKalb claimed $90,903 for using county equipment on several projects but didn’t provide usage records or foreman activity logs.
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  • DeKalb didn’t document its actual payroll costs for using county personnel to complete $33,865 of work at a lift station.
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  • $19,602 in material costs on several projects were missing invoices or payment records.
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In addition, $93,620 of the grant that wasn’t spent should be returned to FEMA, the audit said. DeKalb also claimed $5,301 of duplicate benefits and $2,072 for ineligible markups on contractor material costs.

“These issues occurred primarily because the county (1) was not fully aware of accounting and federal procurement requirements and (2) experienced a high turnover rate of key administrative staff during the course of the grant,” according to the audit.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency, which distributed FEMA grants to DeKalb and other counties, should take responsibility for monitoring grant activities and ensuring that the county complies with grant requirements, the audit said.

“Georgia officials disagreed that they provided inadequate monitoring. However, given the dollar percentage (15 percent) of findings we identified, we believe that Georgia could have done a better job,” the audit said.

FEMA must provide a written response to the Office of Inspector General’s audit within 90 days that includes a corrective action plan and completion dates for each of the agency’s recommendations.

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