The Washington County Board of County Commissioners approved an additional $6 million line of credit on Thursday, Nov. 16, bringing the new overall credit line to $12 million.
The credit line from First Federal Bank of Florida is being extended for the county since the county used its original line.
“There were two draws,” County Clerk Lora Bell said. “One was in September. The other one was in October. … There was no other choice (but) to reach out to say we need it.”
Reimbursements for emergency management contract work are pending due to requests for information from the state. The RFIs are based on asphalt placement and a question about ditches being created.
The previous line of credit has only been used for FEMA payments, which the new line of credit will also go towards.
The loan documents will be approved on Tuesday, Nov. 21, after which the county will receive the money.
“I want to get our money back. I want to get reimbursed,” Commissioner Wesley Griffin said. “I want to get our money expedited and get us back so we can quit using our line of credit, maybe, and getting our money back on track. Our previous commissions worked to get us out of debt. I just don’t want to create more debt for the county.”
Commissioner Alan T. Bush said he heard FEMA was holding up reimbursements because of an investigation. Claims have been made that Wheeler is the subject of an FBI investigation, the details of which are currently unknown.
“I had made the statement in the last meeting that I didn’t think that was the case. I didn’t believe it was the case because I didn’t believe they would be holding up Calhoun and other counties as well,” Bush said. “But I’d like to know if that’s the case. I don’t know who would tell us that. Where does anybody get this information that it’s being held up because of an investigation?”
County Administrator Jeff Massey said the “elephant in the room” is an investigation versus requests for additional information.
“We had RFIs weekly, sometimes daily, from the state requesting further information to clarify things before they approve it and it’s done,” Massey said. “I’m with you, Commissioner Bush. I think we did receive RFIs. I do not look at that as an investigation at all.”
Commissioner Chairman David Pettis said the Florida Division of Emergency Management may not release money from FEMA “until they are satisfied with the RFI, investigation, inquiry, whatever it may be called,” based on information stated during a phone call with representative Kevin Adkison.
Bush asked Pettis to inquire if the reimbursements were being held up due to the investigation, which Pettis said he would do.
The new line of credit will go towards what’s owed on emergency management work.
“We’re in it either way. We owe it to the contractor or we owe it to the bank,” Commissioner David Corbin said. “I think the bank is going to be a lower monthly payment than a contractor coming after us for his old payments.”
A plan should be formulated going forward so what’s happening now doesn’t happen again, Pettis said.
“Hurricane Michael was five years ago. We’ve got 78 miles of roads paved,” Griffin said. “At some point, we’ve got to get back to county business–folks in our county and our employees and our morale and get back to making this county grow financially so we ain’t taxing everybody in this county to death.”
Washington County needs to get away from FEMA and government and federal money “and getting back to making money for us and concentrating on the county’s main goals,” Griffin said.
The county does not expect to seek an additional line of credit beyond the extra $6 million.
“Those reimbursements will come back in and we should be fine.The process has been so smooth for years. It was just something we have run into with this,” Bell said. “It’s a huge project and a huge blessing to the citizens of our county. So many of us that have worked together to see the progress sure hate to turn our back on it.”
“We got to pay our bills,” Griffin said.