DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The city of Dallas and Dallas County leaders are hoping to meet a fast-approaching deadline to qualify for federal money to help pay for tornado damage.
The deadline is December 20 and that’s after Governor Greg Abbott won an extension from FEMA.
For weeks now, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and other leaders have taken FEMA crews on a tour of all the damages to public buildings and infrastructure such as streets, curbs and traffic lights.
But so far, FEMA estimates public uninsured losses from our area to be $33 million, about $5.5 million short of the $38.5 million threshold.
If this area doesn’t qualify for FEMA funding, the city of Dallas would be stuck paying for all of its uninsured losses totaling more than $45 million.
Council Member Jennifer Gates said, “I’m concerned because I know the expenses are real, and they’re going to come out of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Without FEMA money, the city would have to drain its emergency reserves of $35 million and have to use another $10 million in other reserves.
The city is hoping to qualify for FEMA funding because the feds would reimburse the city 75% of uninsured losses, which amounts to $34 million.
Under that scenario, the city would still have to use $11 million in reserves, but that’s far less than what it would face without FEMA reimbursement.
According to city officials, one of the hurdles revolves around traffic lights.
The city said the tornado damaged or destroyed 120 traffic lights which will cost up to $29 million to replace.
In some places, the city has had to set up temporary traffic signals.
Officials said part of the problem is that FEMA doesn’t consider all of the money it would cost the city to replace the traffic lights.
Council Member Gates said, “FEMA is telling us costs related to engineering of traffic signals are not covered to meet the (reimbursement) criteria. Yet if we did meet the criteria, they’d be recovered as a reimbursement cost.”
Council Member Omar Narvaez said, “We’ve got to upgrade these systems. We can’t have traffic signals out for the next five to seven years waiting for the next bond election. We’ve got to get on this immediately.”
Last week, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Council Members Gates, Narvaez and Lee Kleinman and others met with U.S. Senator John Cornyn to press the city’s case.
An aide to Cornyn said the Senator is working to set up a meeting between the Texas Congressional delegation and FEMA’s Acting Administrator as soon as possible.
A statement from Mayor Eric Johnson’s office said, “We continue to work with FEMA officials to provide documentation and information that they have requested. Dallas sustained significant damage during the October 20 tornado, and we remain hopeful that the City will receive federal assistance for our recovery efforts.”
Council Member Narvaez said he’s hopeful. “Right now, we’re really focused on getting this gap closed with FEMA. So that’s what we’re 100% focused on. As far as if we don’t get that FEMA designation, then we’ll start looking at those other options.”
The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Elizabeth Reich, said those options could include budget cuts or a tax increase next year, but that it’s still too early to consider that.
Reich said she would strongly recommend the city replenish any of its emergency reserves as quickly as possible.