30-Day, $30K Contract Approved by Board

By Jann Wiswall

The Town of Mansfield’s board contracted with Simmons Recovery Consulting (SRC) for a 30-day, not-to-exceed $30,000 agreement after hearing a presentation from its director of business development, Ryan Frykholm, at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 18.

According to Frykholm, SRC helps municipalities get the most from its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) claims. Its expertise in disaster recovery allows it to ensure that municipalities are applying for and receiving as much aid — both for emergency repairs and for mitigations they are legally entitled to.

In Mansfield, strong storms and heavy rains this past May caused significant damage to roads, bridges, drainage ditches and culverts. Town Highway Superintendent Brad Hurley identified significant damage to portions of six of the town’s roads and initially estimated the damage to be in the neighborhood of $90,000.

According to Frykholm, SRC’s strengths lie in its ability to answer two key questions: “What is the true magnitude of the problem?” and “What are we owed?”

Frykholm said that SRC serves as the municipality’s advocate.

“We know what works and we base our arguments on what the law allows. Our approach is proactive, not reactive,” he explained.

And in most communities, SRC is able to identify considerably more damage that can be attributed to a storm than local authorities know to include in their damage assessments.

He also emphasized that the firm knows how to document its findings far better than the average applicant who has never dealt with the agency before.

“FEMA requires precise and methodical documentation,” he said, adding that “it can insist on getting its money back if projects are not done properly.”

SRC’s president, Ron Simmons, who has worked for FEMA and for the NYS Office of Emergency Management, “knows FEMA better than FEMA staff,” Frykholm said, and personally influenced development of many of the protocols and procedures FEMA uses today.

Other municipalities throughout Cattaraugus County also experienced significant highway infrastructure damage due to the spring storms. Gowanda, New Albion and Otto all recently signed contracts with SRC to help them through the FEMA process.

Frykholm explained that “FEMA is a reimbursement vehicle.” Municipalities pay upfront for the work that is done. FEMA then pays 75 percent of costs, the state typically pays 12.5 percent and the municipality covers the balance. Under FEMA rules, the direct costs associated with SRC’s work are reimbursable at 75 percent, but indirect costs, such as developing strategy with boards, are not reimbursable.

Frykholm acknowledged that there is some risk for municipalities, particularly if SRC’s assessment of repair and mitigation costs do not exceed the town’s own estimates, but assured the board that the risk is offset by the systems SRC uses to carefully and logically develop a strategy that meets FEMA’s requirements and cuts through the red tape.

Following Frykholm’s presentation and after he left the room, Town Supervisor Bob Keis explained that there is urgency for the town right now because FEMA must have its full damage report in less than two months.

“The key right now is to be sure we’re identifying all of the damage,” he said.

He felt that engaging SRC to help with that assessment and to estimate the costs to repair and mitigate, or reduce the severity of, future damage, would be worth the investment.

“These roads must be repaired, but the highway department is already strapped for funds,” said Keis.

Without help, he felt, the town will never be able to get ahead of the problems caused by the storms.

The board agreed to a short-term, emergency contract for damage assessment beginning on Aug. 25 under the condition that a preliminary report be presented by SRC to the board at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m., at which time the board may cancel the contract with three days’ notice.

If the board feels there is benefit in continuing a relationship with a consulting firm, it will go out for bid for those services.

The next regular meeting of the Town of Mansfield board will be held Monday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.