Auditors question Waveland’s Katrina spending

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mayor Tommy Longo has met with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials about a report that slams the city for irregularities in expenses for Hurricane Katrina recovery.

The Department of Homeland Security report recommended that the federal government reject more than $1 million for overtime payments and debris cleanup.

“There is no easy explanation on these things and how we got to this point,” Longo said Tuesday, citing extensive federal regulations the city had to follow and the length of time that passed before the audit occurred.

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He said most areas questioned by the auditors have been settled.

Homeland Security auditors released the report July 17. The audit spanned a period of Aug. 29, 2005 — the day Katrina hit — to Jan. 23, 2007. It examined $14.2 million from FEMA for nine large projects.

In addition, auditors recommended a further validation study be performed on $3.9 million in expenses the city claimed for a ditch cleaning and reshaping program.

“The reasonableness of such costs could not be readily determined because of numerous inconsistencies between the source documentation and actual work completed,” auditors wrote.

They also questioned the work of a debris removal monitoring company that oversaw the three-phase ditch project. They said work done amounted to less than amounts claimed on reporting tickets, and addresses listed on some tickets did not exist.

The auditors recommended future reimbursements to the city be withheld in the ditch cleaning until the validation process is completed.

In addition, the report questioned repayment of $128,637 in overtime costs for city police, fire, and public works employees in November and December 2005.

Examiners concluded the overtime was incurred for general routine work of the departments and not for activities associated with providing emergency protection after Katrina.

Longo said the discrepancies in the ditch project occurred because federal examiners could not find some of the ditches involved, and some streets could not even be located by examiners because Katrina wiped out street signs throughout the city.

He said inspections of the ditch work were not begun until long after the work was finished.

“They came 15 months after the project was completed,” he said.

FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany said such audits of Katrina expenditures are part of its housekeeping. He said FEMA has until Sept. 19 to respond to the recommendations by the Inspector General’s staff.