Federal funding for Refugio’s rebuilt fire station uncertain

REFUGIO, Texas — Almost four years after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc throughout the tiny town of Refugio, federal relief tied to the now almost-rebuilt fire station is under question and lined with miscommunication.

Refugio Mayor Wanda Dukes said since the Category 4 hurricane struck, she has been in contact with a total of seven of FEMA’s Program Delivery Managers — which is a primary point of contact for applicants seeking disaster relief-funding.

“It seems like if you keep changing people, they really don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

Although those familiar with the construction project said it could be completed in anywhere from three to four weeks, that now $2.1 million facility could be at the complete expense of the town.

“FEMA decided that we would be able to build a new fire station instead of repairing that one — they determined that,” Dukes said, adding that the sharp increase in price was due to the building needing to be up to code and ADA-compliant. “In February of 2019, it was obligated the first time. And of course, when the price went from $1.2 million to $2.1 million — that was in April 2020.”

“That’s when they decided they would have to review everything and re-obligate it, and then they said we did not qualify to build a new building.”

Dukes said she had been told by FEMA that they instead needed to repair that building — long after it had been demolished. Although she constantly calls them for a direct response, she said she doesn’t get one when it’s tied to a timetable or if they’ll even be able to receive relief.

“They can’t give us an answer. We ask every time,” Dukes said. “At one time, they had said that maybe we could draw some money — some of it or something — from between 30 to 90 days.”

“So, at the last call we asked them and they said they did not say that — they cannot give us a timeline.”

Now concerned that her town might not see even a penny of federal funding, she has thought about where that would lead them.

“We will probably have to take out a loan, or take out a bond, or do something,” Dukes said. “I mean — we’ve already had to. They have what they call a FEMA loan, and we’ve already taken that loan so we can just operate from day-to-day.

“We’re a small town and just taking $2 million out of our budget, that’s something that wasn’t budgeted for, you know, it put a strain on us.”

The town’s budget for the 2021 fiscal year is about $4.8 million. Dukes said the constant back-and-forth has been frustrating.

“I really don’t want to speak any negativity about FEMA, but it seems to me that they want to give you as less money as possible and they drag this on out until maybe you get discouraged and you just stop — we couldn’t afford to do that,” Dukes said.

Still, she doesn’t plan on giving up on receiving federal funding for her town.

“Never. That’s not an option. We don’t have $2 million dollars,” Dukes said. “Hopefully this will be resolved and that FEMA will help us out. I’m trying to have faith I think they will.”

KRIS 6 reached out to FEMA Region 6’s news desk and received the following statement after our evening broadcast deadlines:

“FEMA has already funded the replacement of contents for the Refugio fire station and is currently working with TDEM and the applicant to process a grant for damage to the fire station caused by Hurricane Harvey.”

An individual with FEMA was not able to answer follow-up questions or explain the replaced contents — or the specifics of the grant mentioned, but said they would try to get an answer.