BUFFALO, NY - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will wait at least another 30 days, before deciding whether to try to recoup millions of dollars from Erie County, provided in the aftermath of the "October Surprise" Storm of 2006.
Following some high level talks in Washington DC on Wednesday, members of the Erie County Legislature were briefed Thursday on where things stand by Deputy County Budget Director Timothy Callan.
An audit conducted by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released early this year, concluded the county owes FEMA $48 million in disaster relief, extended after the storm, claiming county leaders at the time didn't follow proper protocols in expending the funds.
It is something the county strongly denies.
Callan attended Wednesday's meeting in the nation's capitol between Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, and FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate.
Callan described Fugate as cordial during the 30-minute meeting. "His commentary was somewhat limited, because this was an ongoing situation," Callan told lawmakers.
Callan also said Fugate also agreed to at least to look at things, with another set of eyes, before deciding whether to move forward with a claim against the county.
"However, it will not be an independent entity that is doing this review," said Callan. "The FEMA Office of Chief Counsel, the chief lawyer for FEMA, is getting involved."
"That's fair," opined Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe, who has been the point man in the county's response to the audit. "They have to have someone they're confident in. We'll see how they do," Tobe told WGRZ-TV.
Because he does not (by policy) travel when the County Executive does, Tobe did not attend Wednesday's meeting in Washington DC , but Tobe has met with FEMA's Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney in New York City.
Asked if he thought Erie County will eventually have to pay back the funds, Tobe replied, "I don't believe so."
According to Callan, the only thing for certain is that an ultimate resolution may be a long way off, depending on whether FEMA pursues the recommendation of the audit to collect the money.
"Acting Regional Administrator Tierney is the person who will draft FEMA's response to the audit by the Office of Inspector General," he explained. "Then there's an appeals process we can make to her office if we don't concur with her decision. Then it goes to Administrator Fugate for him to make a decision based on what the Regional Administrator recommends, and then there's another appeals process involving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Secretary for Management...so there's several layers of appeals process within FEMA and within Homeland Security," he said.
And if all else fails, there's always the court system.
"If it comes to it, someday we would get before a fair tribunal like the U.S. District Court here in Western New York and we will litigate this, and we're confident if it comes to that, we will win," Tobe said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer. Follow Dave on Twitter:@DaveMcKinley2