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Welcome federal storm reimbursement will require an accurate accounting

Now that the road has been cleared for federal disaster aid in the wake of November’s snowstorms, localities must make a full and accurate accounting of their storm damage.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s forceful push for the aid, along with the unified voice of the Western New York congressional delegation, persuaded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make funds available to six counties hit by the November snowstorms.

That President Obama declared the region a major disaster area is no wonder: Some parts of the region saw up to 7 feet of snow.

The disaster declaration covers Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, along with Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, which saw lake-effect snow from Lake Ontario.

The megastorm caused an estimated $49 million in damage and cleanup expenses across upstate New York, with $43.9 million of that in Erie County.

Some buildings collapsed under the weight of the snow. Sadly, 14 people lost their lives.

Western New York is accustomed to snow, but the severity of the back-to-back storms and high winds was a shock to those in the hardest-hit places: Lancaster, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Cheektowaga, West Seneca, South Buffalo and other communities. Dozens of people were stranded in their vehicles along the Thruway.

Just as quickly as the cold air blew in, a warm front a few days later brought concern over flooding. This was a storm for the record books.

Cuomo wasted no time in stressing the severity of the situation. His shout for help from the feds was joined by Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Tom Reed, R-Corning.

The message has been received. Now it is up to local municipalities. As Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said, they must make an accurate accounting of storm expenses to FEMA so that aid will be made available. He doesn’t expect 100 percent reimbursement, as that rarely occurs, but will be satisfied with 75 percent to 80 percent.

However, no one wants a repeat of 2006 when the county received $48.5 million from FEMA following the October Surprise snowstorm, only to have the agency later claim that the county improperly accounted for costs and demanded the return of $700,000.

With diligent work, municipal officials will get the help they need to ease the financial impact of the November storms.