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Lee County holds off on approving $273 million in Ian expenses

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Mike Walcher
After Hurricane Ian Lee County signed contracts with companies to pick up debris. Lee also contracted with other vendors for a variety of emergency services. But commissioners want to see the contracts before signing off on up to $273 million in payments.

Lee County is putting on the brakes before authorizing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in payments to deal with Hurricane Ian's damage and destruction. Commissioners Tuesday asked to see more documentation, before voting to pay up to $273 million.

Under emergency powers the Lee County manager signed contracts for everything from debris haulers to traffic signals to catered food for emergency workers. The purchase orders began the week of the storm in late September. and cover the next four months until the end of January.

Commissioner Kevin Ruane objected because he had not seen the actual contracts with the various companies and vendors.

"There is not adequate documentation for the $273 million," he said during the commission meeting. "I see purchase orders here, pages of the items, but nothing to support each item." 

Officials said Lee County would pay the bills with a revolving line of credit. Then Lee expects FEMA to reimburse all the expenses. Lee County said the federal agency did that after Hurricanes Charley and Irma.

Marcy Hackett of North Fort Myers says she's confident the county is doing right by the taxpayers' dollars.

"I think it's a fair accounting." Hackett said. "I mean you have to hire a lot of people for clean-up. Hire them to get it done! I have faith in Lee County."

Brianna Catton of Cape Coral is not so sure.

"I'm a firm believer that government always is doing something shady," Catton said. "Maybe overpaying for things, or paying for more than should have been done. At the end of the day we just have to trust there are people in there that have our best interests at heart."

During the meeting Commissioner Ruane made a motion to defer the item until he and his colleagues see all the contracts. He found support, as the motion passed unanimously.

Officials promised to provide the contracts to commissioners soon, and added that delaying the payment approval should not jeopardize FEMA reimbursement. Approval for the expenses could come up again at a future meeting, after commissioners have had opportunities to review the contracts.

Mike Walcher is a visiting assistant professor in journalism at Florida Gulf Coast University. He also works at WGCU News and can be reached at mwalcher@fgcu.edu

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.