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January snowstorm declared natural disaster

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Students had days out of school, businesses shut down, and drivers kept off the roads when nearly a foot of snow fell in early January.

All of those measures helped county residents weather what the county and state are now officially calling a snow disaster.

The snow didn’t cause widespread damage to homes and businesses like a flood or tornado. Residents dealt with the occasional mailbox getting knocked down, fender bender from sliding on snow-covered roads or bumps and bruises from slipping on ice. Businesses suffered a drop in customers.

The snowstorm certainly damaged the bank accounts of local governments, which had to pay overtime for plow drivers, gas and repairs for plow trucks and road salt. Now the county and state are waiting to see if the federal government will help pay for the cleanup.

Johnson County governments spent about $536,000 to clean up snow during a two-day period in early January.

That amount topped the spending threshold of $3.50 per person living in the county, which totals $500,000, to qualify as a local disaster, Johnson County Emergency Management director Stephanie Sichting said.

Counties, cities, towns and schools throughout Indiana combined to spend more than $9 million responding to the storm, making the state eligible for disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman John Erickson said.

The federal agency is asking all local and state street and highway departments, schools, libraries and electricity cooperatives to submit copies of time cards and invoices to verify the expenses, Sichting said.

“They’re wanting us to collect all of their eligible expenses. We need their time sheets. Now they have to prove everything,” she said.

Local agencies were asked to report any expenses they had fighting the snowstorm during a 48-hour period. That two-day time frame isn’t set to specific days, so while county and city plows were working the most on Sunday and Monday, local schools likely had more expenses on Monday and Tuesday, Sichting said.

Those expenses can include costs such as overtime paid to workers, hiring private companies to help with plowing, road salt, gasoline and expenses to run plow trucks, Sichting said.

Johnson County Emergency Management was able to claim expenses for work done by the Indiana Department of Transportation or Department of Natural Resources in the county, as well as any work done by Johnson County REMC.

Greenwood, Johnson County and Franklin road workers racked up the most expenses during the two-day window. Greenwood spent the most at about $114,000. The county highway department spent $64,000, and Franklin spent $38,000, Sichting said.

Once all of the information is gathered and turned over to FEMA, federal workers

may need several months to verify all of the information, Erickson said.

This type of disaster requires more review to make sure all of the expenses being claimed by counties and states are eligible according to federal rules. That process takes more time than weather that causes damage to property, he said.

“It’s more detail than with a homeowner, when you see there’s a home that’s damaged — this much is uninsured, so they qualify for this. It’s just more complex,” Erickson said.

If Johnson County and Indiana still meet the federal requirements after the review, FEMA would send reimbursements to each agency to cover the cost from the snowstorm, Sichting said. Neither Sichting or Erickson had any estimates as to when that would occur if the disaster aid is approved.

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