Gwinnett asks feds to pay Katrina costs

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County is seeking reimbursement for money it spent helping thousands of evacuees who ended up here in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In paperwork filed Thursday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the county asks to recoup $188,537 it spent turning a former Wal-Mart into a one-stop help center for displaced hurricane victims.

Nonprofits and several state and federal agencies set up shop in the help center, allowing evacuees to get a wide range of services at one location.

Between its Sept. 9 opening and Oct. 7 closing, the American Red Cross Joint Recovery Center assisted more than 10,000 families who received more than $14 million in aid.

The county bought the empty store on Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

Including labor costs, the county spent more than $300,000 getting the 135,000-square-foot building ready for use by the Red Cross and other aid providers, said county Financial Services Director Lisa Johnsa.

But because FEMA will only reimburse the county for some employee pay that went toward getting the center ready and keeping it running, the county can only ask for $188,537 back.

Of that amount, a large majority paid for contractors who worked on the building and the supplies they used.

Slightly more than $85,000 went to companies who fixed the heating and air-conditioning system and did janitorial work, while about $71,600 covered materials and supplies, Johnsa said.

FEMA will reimburse the county for overtime pay, which accounts for almost $19,000 of the county's request.

The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department is also asking FEMA to repay it for sending 20 department employees to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The department is seeking $89,582, which includes employee salaries and equipment that was rented during the Sept. 2-9 mission, said sheriff's spokeswoman Stacey Kelley.

Gwinnett County plans to divvy the former Wal-Mart into records and equipment storage space, an elections office, a health clinic and health department offices. It paid $3.75 million for the building.