Polk schools still need millions of dollars in Irma-related repairs

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Two years after Hurricane Irma hit, the Polk County school board is still trying to collect funds to pay for an estimated $200 million in damages.

So far, approximately $1 million has been collected.

“We’re in that complex moment where the government, the insurance and us are all debating how much the taxpayers of Polk County are actually owed,” said Billy Townsend, a school board member.

The board hit a snag this week when it had to vote to get a new appraiser.

The appraiser it previously hired could no longer be used due to a judge’s ruling in an unrelated case.

That ruling determined appraisers could not be paid on a contingency basis because they need to be neutral parties.

“I was annoyed by, I thought, less than thorough communication with us prior to this meeting. I don’t want to learn about things when they become emergencies,” said Townsend.

Hurricane Irma hit Polk County in Sept. 2017 with 18 inches of rain in some spots and sustained winds up to 100 miles per hour, according to emergency management director Paul Womble.

Polk County Public Schools and the school board turned to the federal government and their insurance carrier for help.

“To get the school’s going again was a lot of effort and the taxpayers need to be reimbursed for that,” said Townsend.

Much of the damage is related to roof repairs and water damage.

“Schools are particularly susceptible to water damage. That’s where a lot of our damage is, it’s kind of unseen. You don’t want to create mold problems,” said Townsend.

Townsend and other school board members hope the board is now back on track and expect awards to be received soon.

Polk County schools aren’t the only ones suffering.

“All the hazards associated with a hurricane, we had them here in Polk County,” said Womble.

Womble is still waiting on $30 million from FEMA to reimburse the county for debris removal after Irma.

“I know we’ve gotten about a million dollars back. Another 14 million is in transit. As of last week, the check hasn’t shown up in the mail yet,” he said.

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