Oklahoma's State, Local Governments Refine Budgets for Costs of Natural Disasters

By Carter, M Scott | THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

Oklahoma's State, Local Governments Refine Budgets for Costs of Natural Disasters


Carter, M Scott, THE JOURNAL RECORD


For the record, all those natural disasters are expensive.

Whether it's Superstorm Sandy or the EF5 tornadoes that ripped through central Oklahoma earlier this spring, the cost associated with the cleanup and recovery from a natural disaster continues to increase on both the state and federal level.

Since 2011, the United States has seen more than two dozen disasters and federal spending, alone, for disaster recovery has topped $136 billion during that same time - about $400 per U.S. household per year.

And in Oklahoma this year, state lawmakers earmarked $40 million from the state's rainy day fund to pay for cleanup and recovery costs associated with May's two EF5 tornadoes. Those costs came after the Legislature was forced to play catch-up in 2012 and allocate $40 million then to cover costs associated with previous disasters.

In addition, Oklahoma also appropriated an additional $3 million in 2013 for drought relief and $1.2 million to replace aging infrastructure for the state's Mesonet system, a computer system that gathers weather-related data used by forecasters and emergency responders.

"In previous years we were tens of millions of dollars in the red," said state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs.

During 2012 Dorman pushed lawmakers and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to catch the state up on its disaster funding. This year, Dorman called for a $500 million bond issue to fund safe rooms for schools.

But just about a year after the state got its emergency funding back in the black, tornadoes and other disasters struck again - and the bills are still being paid.

In just seven months - from Jan. 1 to July 26 - records show that the Oklahoma Emergency Management Department spent $4.384 million in state disaster funds for disaster recovery.

"That would include the state's share of public assistance for ongoing disasters as well as some response costs," said Keli Cain, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. …

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