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Cape to get $5.6 million from FEMA

By Staff | Jul 11, 2019

For nearly two years, the city of Cape Coral has waited for the federal government to provide reimburse for the cleanup it had to do following Hurricane Irma.

On Thursday, FEMA finally came through with some of the money the municipality spent on that recovery.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $5,632,525 reimbursement grant to the city, one of three Lee County municipalities to receive money this go-around.

“This is the first major reimbursement to Cape Coral for our Hurricane Irma cleanup expenses. We should receive additional reimbursement money in the future. I thank FEMA for awarding these funds and also thank our federal and state partners for assisting in this process,” Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello said in a statement.

It is unknown when, exactly, the money will be received.

According to Maureen Buice, city spokesperson, the city has so far received about $126,000. Obligated prior to Thursday. Not yet received is another $107,000.

All told, that comes to less than a third of the $18.1 million in claims the city spent in the aftermath of the storm that hit in September 2017. The city used $9 million in emergency reserves and $8.5 million in unassigned reserves to dig out after the storm.

The city spent $13.1 million on debris removal alone.

The city cleaned up 318,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris from its rights-of-way, there were 25,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris in the city, as well as 164,800 cubic yards of debris from canals.

Irma also downed 2,700 trees, and killed many more left standing.

Total debris removal totaled an estimated $14 million in the Cape, with response and administration costs totaling an estimated $4 million.

Another result of Irma was that city officials said they had to keep the Cape’s millage at 6.75, as it also did in 2017, when a proposed millage decrease to the rollback rate was scrapped.

Also on Thursday, Bonita Springs was awarded $3,058,363, while Fort Myers was awarded $4,266,802 in FEMA grants.

“Our local communities are on the front lines of hurricane recovery, and are the first to step for debris removal which can cost millions of dollars. These grants reimburse the cities for those expenses and are vital to making sure our cities recover financially from these natural disasters,” said U.S. Congressman Francis Rooney in a statement.

It may be several months before the city receives all the approved funds, Buice said, so it’s too early to determine how the money will impact the FY 2020 budget.

City Manager John Szerlag will present his proposed budget to the city council later this month.

Meanwhile, Councilmember John Carioscia had a simple reaction to the news: Reduce the property tax rate.

“Time to cut the millage. Let’s get it in order, let’s take care of our taxes. We got an 8 percent rise in appraisals. Let’s get the bottom line and cut the millage,” Carioscia said. “The $5.6 million is a great start because we anticipated the Homestead Exemption going up. The millage is numero uno.”