Wilmington grants $9 million in initial Florence recovery funding

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The Wilmington City Council approved $9 million in funding for ongoing Hurricane Florence recovery efforts.

WILMINGTON — The city council approved its first wave of funding for Hurricane Florence recovery Tuesday in the amount of $9 million.

The seven-figure assistance is just the tip of what city staff are starting to identify as costs associated with the storm recovery. But a healthy fund balance puts the city in a good position to cover the costs.

At the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the city’s unassigned fund balance, a sort of savings account for unexpected expenditures, was set at $36.8 million — including a possible $6 million in under-budget surplus that will help cushion the withdrawal.

Prior to Tuesday’s unanimous vote on the $9 million funding, deputy city manager Tony Caudle gave an emotional presentation debrief of the storm that started by commending the 600-700 city staffers that worked to some degree during the storm.

He said acknowledging the work of the staff was something council members requested he do Tuesday in the public forum, but he took time to find the right words.

“This is difficult for me because I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” he said, fighting back tears. “Those watching this are probably thinking this guy is a real idiot and I will accept that. But these folks have done things for you and done things for the community that you should never expect of folks like this.”

His proud words for the staff were echoed by every member of the council at some point during the meeting Tuesday.

So far, the damage assessment for Florence has found $220 million in private property damage and $1.8 million in public property damage. With intense debris removal efforts also underway, this likely won’t be the last time city staff propose funding requests.

“We are in a good position, but when we get through looking at the costs more thoroughly, we will most likely have come back and request additional funds,” finance director Jennifer Maready said Tuesday.

This recovery effort is just the beginning of work for city staff.

Caudle reminded the council there is likely more than two years of work ahead to see through everything from implementing repairs and debris removal, to signing off on paperwork with FEMA for reimbursements.

On Monday, public works director Dave Mayes told council the estimated cost of debris removal alone will be between $13 million and $20 million, but those figures are preliminary.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.