Decision on FEMA money pushed back

Atascadero will have to wait until at least October before it will know whether the city must pay millions of dollars back to the federal government because of its alleged misuse of federal disaster recovery funds.

In an audit dated March 22, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the city didn’t properly use or account for expenses totaling $8,014,375 for its share of FEMA funding after the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake.

City officials challenged the findings in April, saying they’ve kept detailed documentation of the many earthquake-related repairs and expenses and have worked closely with FEMA each step of the way.

Because federal regulators specifically audited FEMA, it’s up to FEMA to respond to the allegations.

FEMA officials had 90 days from the audit’s publishing date to decide whether they plan to file an appeal or approve the audit. That deadline has been extended through mid-October, a FEMA spokesman said Friday.

The city was awarded a total of $26.3 million for debris removal, recovery efforts and construction after the quake damaged several buildings, including Atascadero’s historic City Hall, which is currently undergoing construction for repairs.

The audit reviewed approximately $12.9 million in expenses.

Regulators alleged they found unsupported costs for repairing the historic City Hall, rules not followed by temporarily relocating city offices and false uses given for the damaged historic Printery Building.

Investigators told city officials that the audit was routine.

Atascadero officials have said they’re working with FEMA to provide the necessary support documents.