Friday afternoon brought a big dump o'bad news, as state officials told lawmakers that the federal dollars promised for rebuilding/replacing the Waterbury office complex may not materialize.
The state had budgeted $63 million of the projected $183 million cost of new state offices and replacement mental-health facilities. It had received assurances from the feds that somewhere close to 90% of the remaining $120 million would be covered by FEMA.
Well, as Ron Nessen would have said, those assurances are now inoperative. VPR:
...state officials said they learned recently that the full funding may not come through, and if it does, the federal checks may be delayed for months.
"We've been working on this for months. Our patience is wearing thin," said Deputy Administration Secretary Michael Clasen. "We're frustrated."
He says the state's has heard different interpretation of FEMA rules from different FEMA officials. He says the funding situation is now uncertain.
...Buildings Commissioner Michael Obuchowski has been working with FEMA for months. He says the state may face a $120 million funding gap if the FEMA funds it had hoped for don't come through.
"Depending on what the gap ends up we may have to go back to the drawing board in relation to the state hospital and the Waterbury complex," Obuchowski said.
So wait, did FEMA rehire Michael Brown or what?
FEMA official Steven Ward explained the situation with all the clarity of a bureaucrat trained by Talmudic scholars:
"And there are some very challenging policy issues that include determination of the floodplain, what the state requires as far as codes and standards," Ward said. "There are a lot of different aspects to developing the final number and we are in the process of going building by building through the Waterbury complex."
A tantalizing hint was offered in the Vermont Press Bureau's account (paywalled in the Times Argus):
The possible ineligibility is due to whether FEMA is interpreting the state hospital as "destroyed" and whether state repairs to a heating plant canceled federal aid, state officials said.
Hmm. Remember last fall, when Governor Shumlin categorically vowed that the State Hospital would never reopen? Even as many suggested that the Hospital could be rehabbed above the ground floor? Well, maybe Shumlin's steely resolve was misplaced, eh?
As for the Governor, he sought to tamp down the bitter disappointment his own staff had delivered to the Legislature. He told the Freeploid that "There is no new story here; FEMA has never given us a final number." And...
Shumlin said he remained confident "we will get the money we deserve." ...
The state has to go through a negotiating process with FEMA, Shumlin said. "This is not going to be a smooth ride. No one thought it would be."
Which doesn't explain why his own staffers were so gloomy earlier that same day. Methinks the Gov has begun a diplomatic campaign to convince Washington to fork over the moola.
There was also bad FEMA news for the town of Bennington. FEMA has rejected the town's request for reimbursement of about $4 million in post-Irene emergency work. The Banner:
Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd and Planning Director Daniel Monks said town officials learned of the FEMA rejection on Thursday. They said work completed on the Roaring Branch, known as emergency protective work, has been deemed to be ineligible for reimbursement. The rejection came as a shock because FEMA regulations given to the town, and FEMA officials themselves, had led the town to believe the work would be at least partially reimbursed, they said.
Monks added that the problem seemed to be an interagency tussle over reimbursement between FEMA and an Agriculture Department agency. Which is cold comfort for Bennington. If they can't get the decision overturned, town taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill.
You know, this kind of bullshit is why so many people hate the government -- even people who depend on government programs. I realize the United States is a huge, complex institution; but if it could only be a bit more people-friendly, transparent and simple, it might be easier to get people to vote Democratic and support taxation adequate to fund government services.