Oxford to Baldacci: Pay up


NORWAY – At least one local government official is trying to secure disaster reimbursement money from the state for Oxford County municipalities after the money failed to make it into the supplemental state budget.

Oxford County Commissioner Jeffrey Fagan has contacted Rep. H. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, whose amendment to insert the money into the supplemental budget will be discussed this week during committee hearings.

“He’s going to advocate for it during their hearings this week,” Fagan said Tuesday. “They are trying to get everything done before recess.”

Fagan also sent a letter last week to Gov. John Baldacci demanding that the state fulfill its obligation of paying the county $190,753 in disaster reimbursement funds. After Baldacci declared a disaster following last spring’s record rainfall and resulting flood damage, the state was obligated to pay Oxford County that amount to meet its 15 percent share of disaster funding.

Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance requires a 25 percent match for every dollar of federal aid. The state is liable for 15 percent and local communities contribute 10 percent.

The federal government’s payment obligation of 75 percent was met and local municipalities met their obligation of 10 percent. But the state’s share never made it into the supplemental budget.

“We rely on the towns for emergency management service. They are going to be very reluctant to participate at the right level in case of a disaster if they can’t rely on the state,” said Fagan.

In his letter to Baldacci dated April 5, Fagan said hospitals, pharmacies and other public and private entities are waiting for payments from the state. “It is high time that you and your administration buckle down to meet the obligations that you have made to the dozens of municipalities, counties and other entities who are entitled to the state’s portion of the disaster relief when you made the decision to declare a disaster in 2005,” Fagan wrote.

According to a letter sent to Maine municipalities in January from Arthur Cleaves, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, last year’s legislative session closed before the state share for the disaster could be determined.

As a result, there was no disaster fund from which the state reimbursements could be drawn, and MEMA was awaiting legislative actions to appropriate the funds, Cleaves said.

MEMA oversees the process and is responsible for requesting the state funds and ensuring that the money is properly allocated to municipalities.

Scott Parker, director of Oxford County Emergency Management, said if the funds are not given to municipalities this year, they will have to wait until 2007 to be reimbursed. “The funds are at the state; they have them there,” said Parker. “Let’s just do the right thing. You have an obligation at the state level. Pay it.”

A spokeswoman for Baldacci said in a statement Tuesday that state funding will be included in the supplemental budget in January 2007 if municipalities don’t receive the funding this year. “The governor is aware of how important this is to the communities,” Crystal Canney said.