FEMA wants Lake Co. to repay old hurricane cleanup costs

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it overpaid Lake County for a hurricane that hit in 2004 and now wants hundreds of thousands of dollars back.

For Lake County the timing couldn't be worse. The county is in a struggle to come up with money to pay its bills.

In September of 2004, Hurricane Frances made a mess of much of the landscape in Lake County.

FEMA sent $20 million to the county -- much of it for cleanup. But now, nearly nine years after the storm, the government wants a refund.

"It's typical FEMA, typical federal government-- change the rules after the fact, and stick it to the local taxpayer. That's what they're doing here," said Lake County Commissioner Jimmy Conner.

FEMA wants to be reimbursed $320,673.85 for costs that they have now determined were not eligible for emergency funding.

Among the items: the price to take out tree stumps.

FEMA argues that the cost to remove stumps 2 feet across or less was not reasonable.

County officials said they are frustrated because FEMA approved the expenses all those years ago, and all of the money was spent.

Now, with a county budget that has been cut by more than $50 million over the last few years, officials may need to find funds for FEMA.

"Washington is broken, as Congressman Webster says. And this is just a typical example of the bureaucracy of the federal government, and it's enough to make you sick," said Conner.

The commission plans to ask U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster to look into the situation and see if he can get the county a break.