SOUTHWEST RANCHES, Fla. – Tiny Southwest Ranches has a yearly budget of barely $9 million. Now the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the town has to come up with $750,000 to repay federal money it took for Hurricane Wilma damage in 2005.
FEMA sent its first demand for payment in mid-2008, but Town Administrator Charles Lynn said he did not find out about it until a FEMA representative mentioned the debt in late November.
“My jaw dropped,” said Lynn, who was hired as town administrator in May 2009. “That correspondence goes back to 2008, and I wasn’t here.”
Mayor Jeff Nelson said the entire Town Council was taken aback by the news.
“It was a surprise to us,” Nelson said. “It does concern us … when they tell us we owe $750,000, it raises a large question mark.”
FEMA sent another letter dated Aug. 19 demanding the town return $752,227.12 in overpaid reimbursements. The letter was addressed to Lee Rickles, general services coordinator for the town.
Lynn said Rickles never told him that FEMA claimed the town owed the money. He said he asked Rickles for an explanation.
“She didn’t really have one,” Lynn said. “Right now, my focus is on trying to resolve the problem.”
In total, FEMA reimbursed Southwest Ranches $2.3 million for damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, including debris removal.
“We have boxes and boxes of documents,” Lynn said. “FEMA has done an audit, but we want to do our own audit. … We thought the books were closed. It’s been five years since Hurricane Wilma.”