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State legislators continue efforts for remaining ice storm reimbursements

March 12, 2017 GMT

South Carolina legislators are still working to get local governments impacted by an ice storm three years ago, including Aiken County, the remaining reimbursements for clean up costs.

A bill in the Senate, S.501, would direct $4.5 million from the Farm Aid Fund that has lapsed in the state’s general fund to counties and municipalities affected by the 2014 storm.

The Farm Aid Fund was created last year to help farmers impacted by 2015′s historic flooding with grants. The award period for grants has ended.

The bill’s sponsors include Sens. Tom Young, R-Aiken; Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; and Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, according to the state’s legislative website.

Under the bill, the State Treasurer is “directed to disburse to eligible counties and municipalities allocations sufficient to offset cleanup expenses associated with the 2014 Winter Storm,” the bill’s text reads.

A county or municipality is eligible for a disbursement “if it was eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but was not reimbursed due to local match requirements,” it continues.

An eligible county or municipality would receive a disbursement “equal to the amount for which the county or municipality was eligible for but not reimbursed due to local match requirements in proportion to the funds lapsed to the general fund.”

The storm, known as Winter Storm Pax, affected 22 counties and municipalities, and downed trees and cut power to thousands of homes in heavily impacted Aiken County.

Aiken County spent around $33.2 million to pick up debris left by the ice storm and the city of Aiken spent $2 million, according to previous reports.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said this week the county recently received the final audit from FEMA regarding the federal funds. Aiken County received a little over $27 million, he said.

Though that part of the project has wrapped up, Killian said the state match is uncertain at this time.

Following the storm, in a 25 percent local match, the state sent around $4 million to the local governments for ice storm expenses, separate from the federal reimbursement.

In a recent letter to constituents, Young said this year, former Gov. Nikki Haley included the remaining ice storm reimbursement in her budget proposal before leaving office; however, the state budget pending currently in the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee does not include any funds for the remaining 2014 ice storm reimbursement.

Efforts to reach House Ways and Means Committee Chair Brian White, of Anderson, for comment were unsuccessful as of press time Friday, as he was out of the office.

The appropriation needed is approximately $11.5 Million, Young wrote.

“The 2014 ice storm reimbursement will not be included in the 2017 state budget unless our Aiken delegation and those representing the other 21 impacted counties successfully advocate for it,” he continued. “If so, local governments in our area including Aiken County, the City of Aiken, the City of North Augusta, and the Town of Jackson will be reimbursed their remaining out-of-pocket expenses from the 2014 ice storm.”

Young recently spoke about the issue on the Senate floor in late February. He stood surrounded by other legislators whose counties were affected by the storm including Sens. Shane Massey, R-Aiken, and Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, of the Aiken County delegation.

Young says in recent years, after similar weather disasters, the state has reimbursed local governments 100 percent of the remaining 25 percent not covered by federal disaster assistance.

Local governments impacted like Aiken County took money from its reserves to cover costs, he said.

Legislators have also pointed out 100 percent of state funds have been reimbursed for other state disasters including a 2005 ice storm that impacted the Upstate and the 2015 flooding. Young added it is also expected for 2016′s Hurricane Matthew and the Pinnacle Mountain Fire that affected the Upstate last fall.

“It’s all well and good that all these counties should be fed with some spoon,” Young said.

According to his letter, local members of the House of Representatives are working with their colleagues to include funds for the ice storm in this year’s state budget.

S.501 is currently residing in the Senate’s committee on finance, the legislative website says.