Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Feds will be auditing St. Johns County disaster funds
St. Johns County's receipt of $47 million HUD funds will come with HUD Inspector General audits. St. Johns County has no Inspector General of its own. No ombuds, either. Neither do St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach and local special taxing districts. We look forward to the HUD OIG auditing and investigating any corruption, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery by County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, et al. We've got corruption allegation but no cops or prosecutors here who care about government employee misconduct white collar crime. Receipt of federal funds triggers accountability. God bless America.
Posted February 8, 2017 12:03 am - Updated February 8, 2017 05:20 am
By JAKE MARTIN email@example.com
St. Johns County could get $47M for disaster recovery from feds
St. Johns County could be the beneficiary of nearly $47 million through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for “disaster recovery and resiliency” projects that tie back to Hurricane Matthew.
According to County Administrator Michael Wanchick’s presentation to commissioners on Tuesday, the county was recently awarded $46,881,600 in Community Development Block Grant monies for its storm recovery efforts. Although there are strings attached, there is no federal, state or local match requirement.
“We’re talking about a lot of money here,” Wanchick said. “This isn’t just money for any purpose for anyone to use.”
He said despite the paperwork and “tremendous undertaking” that will likely ensue, the return on investment would be “huge” for the county. (Wanchick later said the funding would be coming to the county as a whole, meaning the cities and municipalities would be able to submit project requests of their own. He said there have been no decisions about where any funding will go and that one of the first steps will be to determine what’s eligible and ineligible.)
“It’s hard to argue with $47 million with no match,” he said when commissioners remained quiet after he asked if there were any questions for him.
Commissioners unanimously approved transferring $100,000 out of General Fund Reserves to pursue the funding. Wanchick said the approval was essentially for an initial task order to Ardurra, the county’s disaster recovery consultant, to get the process started.
Commissioner Jeb Smith later referred to the potential funding as a “genuine blessing.”
Now for the strings.
Funds must be used in accordance with federal guidelines and eligible projects must meet specific requirements and national objectives related to low- and moderate-income benefit, urgent need and slums and blight. Funds must also be spent within six years from the date of a signed grant agreement with HUD.
According to Wanchick’s presentation, each project must have a direct link to the disaster, such as repair or reconstruction of housing; acquisition and buyouts of property; repair or replacement of damaged or inadequate infrastructure; economic development or revitalization; payment of the federal share of federal programs, including those of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; planning activities; project delivery costs and administration costs.
Wanchick said the state, as it stands, will administer the funding and must ensure all federal requirements are adhered to accordingly. He said the state may transfer the work to the county but that the state would make the local rules and remain the responsible party.
There are still many steps to go.
Wanchick said the county must take several steps within 90 days of the original date of notice (Jan. 18, according to the Federal Register), before it can start spending the funds. The county must establish a Citizen Participation Action Plan; consult with community stakeholders; submit certification documentation to HUD demonstrating the county has sufficient financial controls and procurement procedures as well as capacity to manage the funding; and respond to public comment received and to submit the action plan.
The action plan, among other things, must demonstrate proposed uses of funds, outline each project’s eligibility, demonstrate how uses will address long-term needs, assess unmet needs and identify methods of distribution of funds.
Commissioners also approved accepting a $3.75 million allocation from emergency funds released by Gov. Rick Scott in January to address critically eroded beaches in four counties where there is an “imminent threat” to beachfront structures, such as roadways, homes and businesses. Although the funds are available now, the grant requires a match for which the county has yet to establish a funding mechanism.
Wanchick told commissioners the county would not spend that money, and, thus, put the county on the hook for the match, until a solution is identified and brought forward for their consideration.
County staff also gave commissioners an extensive progress report on efforts related to restoration of sand dunes and construction of emergency sand berms, eligible via state and federal programs, along the county’s 42 miles of coastline. There were also updates on shore protection projects, which predate the storm and are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for St. Augustine Beach as well as South Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beach. Sources of funding for hurricane recovery projects were also discussed, as were some options for local financing mechanisms for certain beach restoration projects. (Look for more on those discussions in The Record this week.)
The ultimate fate of the Wednesday farmers markets near the St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier is yet to be determined but a path toward some type of resolution appears to have opened. Wanchick at the head of Tuesday’s meeting said he would extend the current lease for five or six months and use that time to work through “issues and alternatives” with the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association and come up with a long-term solution.
In December, Wanchick notified the association he wouldn’t recommend the County Commission renew the agreement. However, commissioners in January decided to take up the matter at their Feb. 21 meeting. Wanchick on Tuesday told commissioners they could hold off on that discussion until an agreement is reached among the involved parties.
Wanchick didn’t commit to any particular outcome but his suggestions ranged from re-negotiating the current contract to transferring the title for the pier parking lot over to St. Augustine Beach so they can manage the property and what takes place there.
“We’re not making a decision today,” Wanchick told commissioners.
While there seems to be something resembling consensus among officials and residents for the markets to continue, discussion remains heated about the civic association’s handling of the event as well as how the association and county divvy up the associated costs.
Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to allow the county’s legal team to “continue litigation” regarding two suits filed against the county in October 2015 by the developers behind King’s Grant, a proposed 999-home development near the intersection of State Road 206 and Interstate 95. Developer KG Development LLC and property owner Cumberland Street LLC sued the county on two fronts after their request for rezoning, which spurred debate over fast growth and urban sprawl, was denied 3-2 by commissioners the previous month.
Tuesday’s decision came with little to no discussion among the board about what options for proceeding were presented in a closed session that lasted about an hour and a half. No representatives for the plaintiffs were present in the closed session, which included board members, county administration, the county’s attorneys and court reporters.
In one case, CA15-1181, the developer is seeking a Writ of Certiorari to quash the county’s denial. This won’t mean that one or the other “wins,” but will decide if the county followed the rules in denying the application. If it’s found that the county did not, it will be directed to try again.
In the other case, CA15-1184, the developer seeks “declaratory, injunctive and other relief” due to the denial. According to the complaint, the county’s decision “adversely affects the landowners by denying them the use and enjoyment of their property.”
There is little movement indicated on either case docket over the past few months, although a hearing is scheduled in the first case for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in Judge Michael Traynor’s chambers.