Revised Audit Still Calling on Erie County to Repay FEMA

April 5, 2013 Updated Apr 5, 2013 at 11:49 PM EDT

By WKBW Internet

April 5, 2013 Updated Apr 5, 2013 at 11:49 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - Federal auditors released a report back in February, recommending FEMA try to collect $48 million in federal grant money from Erie County paid out in response to the October storm of 2006.

The original audit said the county had violated federal law by showing preference to local contractors to do clean-up work.

When the county refuted those claims, pointing to a change in the law that actually suggested municipalities hire local, the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security revised his findings.

The latest report says the county failed to ensure a "full and open competition" when hiring contractors, while also questions the county's method for devising rates.

The report also says the county could not show evidence that it performed a required cost analysis, and that it failed to take steps to use minority and women owned businesses when possible.

"What part of an emergency don't they understand? We were trying to save lives and property," said Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe, in response to the latest findings.

Ironically, in a 2010 audit of the county storm fund, then County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz comes to some of the same conclusions.

In it, he says that then County Executive Joel Giambra's decision to hire local contractors, " all likelihood increased the County's expense when compared to other localities such as the Towns of Tonawanda and Amherst."

The 2010 audit also finds that FEMA's reimbursement exceeded the county's costs by about $1.4 million.

In response to the latest findings, current county officials say that every decision was approved by FEMA staff on scene during the storm clean-up, and if anyone is to blame, it is FEMA.

"FEMA staff were here. They told us it was okay. They knew what we were doing and they said it was okay," added Tobe.

The audit does not require the county to repay any money and is just a recommendation to FEMA to recollect the funds.

Senator Charles Schumer, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Congressional leaders are planning a meeting in the upcoming weeks with FEMA officials to discuss the audit.