Hancock County Leaders Unsure How To Disburse Katrina Fund Donations

Hancock County leaders have spent the past 15 months trying to figure out a way to legally disburse nearly $150,000 in donations that came to the county to help Katrina victims.

Connie Strong is a deputy clerk in the Hancock County tax assessors office. She, along with most county employees, lost everything she owned in the storm.

"I lost two houses, they were next door to one another. I lost my vehicle."

Strong says she could really use a cut of the donations that poured into the county after Katrina struck.

"It would help me to remove my slab and have it hauled off, so I can begin rebuilding," Strong said.

Sheriff's Deputy Jody Richardson says he could also put the cash to good use.

"We have some borrowed furniture from our in laws right now that's kind of sliding us by, but eventually they're going to need that," Richardson said.

WLOX spoke with several county employees who declined to go on camera for fear of losing their jobs. They all want to know why, after 15 months, they still haven't seen a dime from the Katrina Victims Fund.

"Unfortunately, there are all kinds of rules when you receive donations through a 501 3-C, a non-profit organization," Board of Supervisors President Rocky Pullman said. "You just don't take the money and hand it over to the individuals the donors would love it to go to."

Pullman says there were more than 110 donors from eight different states who generously sent money. They included churches, civic organizations, foundations and individuals. In total, the county received about $148,000. That cash is now sitting in a special bank account.

"What we looked at was different ways we might could comply with the law and one was to do an equal disbursement to each individual employee," Pullman said.

But one of the donors wanted the the greatest portion of his money to go to employees who lost the most. Pullman says that would be hard to do with more than 220 county employees. And about $60,000 was specifically requested by donors to be given to organizations like the local food pantry.

Supervisors rejected the idea of hiring a private company to do the job.

"We didn't think that was a good thing. We want every penny that comes into this county, which was earmarked for county employees, that's where they wanted those funds to go and that's where we intend for them to end up at."

By Al Showers