The Ocean County Board of Freeholders approved an emergency appropriation of $50 million on Wednesday to allow the county to pay for cleanup costs associated with Hurricane Sandy -- costs that it anticipates will be fully reimbursed.
The appropriation -- which received the blessing of the state government, Freeholder Deputy Director John Bartlett said -- will allow the county to pay the bills created through the county's contracts with AshBritt Inc. and V. Louis Berger Group, Inc., under shared services agreements with 15 towns for the removal of debris and the monitoring and paperwork that must be done.
Both companies have received approval from the state and from the Federal Emergency Management Administration as companies to handle debris removal and monitoring in storm-stricken areas.
The shared services agreements for debris removal are designed to take the stress off local municipal officials, as the two companies are experienced in what needs to be done, not only to remove the debris but to file the paperwork necessary to get FEMA reimbursement for that work.
"The county will up-front the costs of the bill, then seek reimbursement from FEMA and bill the individual towns" for their portion of the costs, Bartlett said. The standard FEMA reimbursement rate is 75 percent, but Bartlett hopes the state and county will qualify for 90 percent reimbursement, thereby leaving the towns with just 10 percent of the bill.
"We're just acting in a capacity to get this done efficiently," Bartlett said, saying the county's triple-A bond rating helps as the county looks at how to pay the bills, whether it's through tapping its $33 million in surplus to pay the bills until reimbursements are received, or bonding for some or all of the money until the county is reimbursed.
"These are going to be big bills," Bartlett said. "Towns will be hard-pressed to pay these" full amounts and then seek reimbursement."I expect the reimbursements from the town and FEMA will be quick enough that the county won’t need to borrow long-term" to cover the costs, he said.
"We want this job done," Bartlett said. "We’re going to get it done, and help our municipalities get this done."
The towns taking part in the agreement are Barnegat, Beach Haven, Berkeley, Brick, Jackson, Lavallette, Long Beach Township, Manchester, Mantoloking, Waretown, Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Ship Bottom, Stafford and Toms River.