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D.C. taps $10M in reserves for quake damage

Borrowing must be repaid by 2013

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The District has followed through on plans to borrow $10 million from its contingency reserve fund to cover damage from last month's earthquake — a conservatively high estimate of what it will actually need — as it continues to assess the monetary fallout from the hurricane that passed the region days later.

The D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer provided $5 million in budget authority to the Department of Real Estate Services and $5 million to the Office of Public Education Facilities Maintenance "to cover the cost of inspections and repairs to District facilities related to the recent earthquake," Robert Marus, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray, said Tuesday.

The city must pay back half of the contingency funds during the coming fiscal year and the remaining half during fiscal year 2013.

The city is also conducting damage estimates from the heavy rains and winds from Hurricane Irene, which pummeled the Washington area on its sweep up the East Coast just four days after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook city buildings, officials said.

"They have not said, 'This is the exact amount we have estimated,' " Mr. Umansky said, referring to overall damage.

Mr. Gray's office said it could take "considerably more time" to calculate the total damage estimate from both events, which includes property damage, overtime for emergency personnel and other, "incidental" costs.

Among the damage, D.C. officials "red-flagged" 13 schools after the earthquake for mostly cosmetic issues. One high school, the School Without Walls, had to send its students to Eastern High School for two days while crews completed masonry repairs.

The mayor's office noted the $10 million dip into contingency funds is intended to pay for earthquake-related costs.

"However, we are looking at how the District might recoup dollars in cases where earthquake damage has been further exacerbated by hurricane damage," Mr. Marus said.

Since President Obama authorized Mr. Gray's declaration of emergency before the storm, the District could receive federal reimbursements for up to 75 percent of its hurricane-related costs.

Other uses of the contingency reserve fund this year include advance school-year funding for D.C. public schools and charter schools on July 1 while the District waits for Congress to review its budget (it did this in 2009 as well); for cash-flow purposes earlier in the year, which it also did last year; and small amounts for urgently needed supplies for the Department of Corrections and Department of Health, according to CFO spokesman David Umansky.

The first two uses have been repaid to the fund, and the third is expect to be fully repaid by the end of the year.

Rating agencies "do look positively on the existence of the District's contingency and emergency funds and the requirements on how they are to be paid back," Mr. Umansky said.

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