Hurricane Irma affects thousands in Largo

Hurricane Irma toppled this oak tree across 137th Street just north of Wilcox Road in Largo in 2017.

LARGO — City of Largo Assistant Finance Director Rebecca Spuhler probably felt like a million bucks April 8 when she checked on the status of the city’s FEMA reimbursement request for costs incurred related to Hurricane Irma.

That’s because Spuhler, who has been leading the painstaking effort to collect and submit all the necessary documentation to FEMA, learned the agency had just awarded $1,063,701 to the city.

So, was she relieved to see the money approved?

“Definitely,” she said on April 8. “It’s a long time coming. I mean, it’s now April and this happened in September 2017.”

Spuhler said the delay has been the result of a complicated vetting process, which calls for all expenditures and documentation to go through FEMA before being routed to the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s auditors who distribute the money.

Also, this award was for one of the city’s larger and more complicated requests, which included all the staff time and equipment usage for the time period between Sept. 4-Oct. 3, 2017.

It’s not quite a done deal yet, though.

In fact, Spuhler still has to submit documentation regarding the equipment usage before the state will fund the city with the amounts that are obligated.

Halfway there

Even if those funds are officially approved, the city still has a long way to go before receiving all the funds it has requested.

“Our total estimated submission is around $2.6 million, and this would bring our total obligation to $1,240,000, so we’re about half way,” she said, adding that the city has only collected payment on its first invoice for a few thousand dollars.

What’s remaining, she said, is debris removal and administrative costs, such as her time on the project, which she likely hopes is winding down before the next hurricane season starts.

She is also working on reimbursement requests for Largo Fire and Police’s efforts assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Jackson County.

“We have all these different things happening and I don’t want too many at the same time because that can get confusing,” she said.

U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist added that the grant is welcomed news. 

“Though we were lucky enough to avoid a direct hit, many Pinellas county residents were still significantly impacted by Hurricane Irma, losing power, property, and millions of dollars in revenue,” Crist said in a press release. “This grant goes a long way towards helping the city of Largo and its residents recover from the damage caused by this disaster.”