Hurricane Irma debris removal

In this January 2018 file photo, a Highlands County claw truck, with help from Road and Bridge crews, picks up the last of a large pile of branches from the 6700 block Sparta Road.

SEBRING — County Administrator Randy Vosburg said the second check is on it’s way from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has approved the county’s remaining $4.3 million to reimburse Hurricane Irma costs. It’s still not expected to arrive before the end of the fiscal year.

That means the county will still have to cut budgets and set the property tax rate as if that boost to the fund balance is not on its way.

It may take a couple of months for the county to see the check, Vosburg said, given how long it took earlier this year to receive funds.

The first check for $6.59 million, arrived in late May, along with a check for $823,416 from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The county first got word of that reimbursement in March when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the Florida Department of Emergency Management to start disbursing at least half of the requested funds to counties.

At that time, Office of Management and Budget Manager David Nitz estimated that if all the county’s $13.4 million requested reimbursement from FEMA were to come back by Sept. 30, which is not likely, the county would have an $18.3 million reserve — well over the minimum three-month cushion the county needs to have.

In a press release, FEMA officials stated that the funds were to reimburse Highlands County for its collection, reduction, disposal and site management of local debris between Sept. 18 and Oct. 17, 2017, in response to the Sept. 10 storm.

During that time period, FEMA states, the county and its contractors gathered, hauled away and disposed of 324,182 cubic yards of vegetative debris and 270 cubic yards of construction/demolition debris.

They also removed 77 trees and 6,633 hanging trees limbs that posed a threat to public safety.

County Commission Chair Jim Brooks has said the county needs this reimbursement, not only for the operation funds cushion but to respond to another hurricane, should one arrive this season or in the near future.


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