Counties, Cities Seek Another FEMA Debris Extension

Pass Christian's debris removal is 65 percent complete. But Katrina's destruction is so widespread there's still plenty to pick up.

Mayor Billy McDonald says, "It's taken almost six months to get two thirds. And then, of course, we know in three weeks we can't get the other third."

Timing is important. Unless FEMA grants an extension, the agency will stop in mid-March paying the entire bill. It will pick up 90 percent, while the cities and counties pay the rest.

The Pass is already operating on millions of dollars in loans and the mayor says his city can't afford a debris removal bill.

"We'd have to again borrow more money, you know, in order to pay that off. So naturally we're going to ask for an extension. We don't need to keep borrowing money if we don't have any way to pay it back. We've lost about 80 percent of our tax base at this time and 100 percent of our sales tax now gone," McDonald says.

A big chunk of that sales tax came from the now gutted Walmart - more than $1 million a year.

In Hancock County, administrator Tim Kellar says debris removal isn't moving as fast as they hoped. He says, like the Pass, his county can't handle any more expenses.

"It's going to push us even further into the red. Of course, we're trying to manage as best we can with demands we already know we have coming. So it certainly wouldn't be good news if the word does come that they're not going to 100 percent reimburse the debris mission in Hancock County," Kellar says.

An extension request to FEMA must come from Jackson. City and county leaders say they will make sure the governor knows how badly it's needed to keep the debris cleanup on track.

FEMA has already granted four extensions on the 100 percent reimbursement for debris removal.