Tonawanda News — Tobe said the most frustrating part of the situation is county officials at the time were acting on advice from high-ranking FEMA officials who were in Western New York to help guide local leaders on how to proceed within federal guidelines. (Tobe was not working for the county in 2006 but was with the City of Buffalo, which was the subject of a nearly identical audit two years ago and successfully convinced FEMA not to recoup the money.)
The “fairness” issue, as the county put it in its official response, is central to Erie County’s response.
“(They’re saying) Erie County should not have listened to those FEMA representatives and should have done something different,” Tobe said. “What they’re telling us and every other community that has an event is when the FEMA representatives come in, don’t trust them and you’ll have a better chance of getting paid. It’s preposterous.
“Somehow Erie County would have needed to be more knowledgable of FEMA regulations than the FEMA staff itself. It’s an untenable position.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who along with other members of the region’s congressional delegation criticized the audit, said FEMA representatives “knew or should have known” what the federal laws were. In a letter to the DHS inspector general in February, Higgins chastised auditors.
“From all appearances it seems that the auditors were either unfamiliar with the applicable (federal law) or they disregarded it,” Higgins wrote. “Whatever the case, the shortcomings on the part of the auditors ... must be addressed.”
Tobe expressed confidence FEMA officials would decide, as they did following the audit of Buffalo’s expenditures, not to recoup the money.
The region’s congressional delegation and state disaster officials are “primed to help” lobby FEMA officials on the issue, Tobe said.
“We have a lot of confidence FEMA will see this on the merits,” Tobe said. “As my mother used to say, a little help doesn’t hurt.”