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Teresa Watson gets FEMA to cough up money

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

BRONSON — Teresa Watson is not the sort of person you should owe a debt.

She will collect the money.

The Board of Commissioners recently commended Watson, a financial clerk in Levy County Clerk of Courts Danny Shipp’s office, on Jan. 6 for getting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to agree to cover cost overruns at the Cedar Key dock rebuilding. The dock, which was reopened in July 2008, was damaged by tropical storms and hurricanes in the devastating 2004 Hurricane Season. The dock had to be replaced with a new stronger concrete structure.

When FEMA agreed to give Levy County a grant to cover the cost of rebuilding, Watson said, it was not anticipated that concrete and steel rebar would increase in price the way it did in 2005. Both products were experiencing heavy demand for rebuilding projects overseas in Iraq as well as from a second devastating hurricane season on the Gulf Coast.

When the costs were more than expected, the county moved to dip into other agencies’ funds to cover the $762,486.98 bill.

Watson started work at the county in late 2005, and it became her task to recover the overrun from FEMA.

“When we showed FEMA the increase in the amount of concrete and rebar. They told us we would have the original amount and anything that we spent over they would try to reimburse us,” Watson said.

County Coordinator Freddie Moody told the commission Watson did what was necessary to win a favorable decision.

Watson said that involved gathering information on the specifications the county had to meet and the engineering plans for the dock reconstruction. And getting back to the folks at FEMA, despite several changes in personnel at FEMA working the claim.

“The money is coming back to the county,” Watson told the commission in its regular meeting.

Watson informed Moody and Shipp of the good news when she received it from FEMA. “We were all relieved that we were getting the majority of the money back,” she said.

Commissioner Lilly Rooks, whose district includes Cedar Key, commended Watson. “She stayed on top of it.”

Rooks also said anyone who thinks the commission has come into a windfall in a tight budget year, has another think coming.

Rooks said the commission counted on getting the refund and included it in the budget approved in September.

Watson echoed that thought. “This is not a windfall of money, this is money we had for other stuff, and this is money that is coming back in.”