Audit faults Kansas City, Mo., for misspending federal storm cleanup dollars

? A federal audit faults state and municipal oversight of cleanup efforts after a January 2002 ice storm that downed about 20,000 trees and left half the area’s households without power.

The audit found the city misspent or failed to properly account for one-third of the $28.5 million it is seeking to have reimbursed. Problems raised in the audit ranged from failures to ensure reasonable storm-cleanup costs to a lack of documentation to show costs were directly related to the disaster.

The federal government already has chipped in $20 million and could reimburse up to 75 percent of the $28.5 million cleanup costs. The state could be responsible for up to 10 percent of the expense, with the city responsible for the remaining balance.

But the Homeland Security inspector general’s report recommends disallowing $9.3 million in questionable spending, most of that federal funding. Potentially, Kansas City could have to forego additional reimbursement and refund at least several million dollars if the regional FEMA office agrees.

Kansas City and Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency officials disputed most of the audit’s findings, including questions raised about the $1.1 million the city sought for repaving a Truman Sports Complex parking lot. Auditors said the lot, which was used as a debris-collection and grinding site, already had deteriorated before the storm.

But the city said a FEMA inspector determined the parking lot was eligible for reimbursement.

Auditors also noted difficulties finding many of the trees that were reportedly trimmed after the storm. The city suggested out-of-state crews may have mistaken the addresses.

“We maintain the ice storm project was skillfully monitored and managed,” the city said in a statement. “The cleanup from the ice storm was an immense effort requiring quick mobilization of manpower and equipment during a state of emergency. The city’s first priority was the safety and welfare of its citizens.”

The city will coordinate with state and FEMA officials to respond to the inspector general’s office within 60 days.

Though the amount of questioned costs was large, auditors said it is not unusual for disaster work that is largely contractor debris removal.