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State, Local Leaders Expect 90 Percent Power Restoration To Tallahassee By Monday

More than 90 percent of the electricity should be back on across Leon County on Monday and 98 percent by Wednesday, local officials told Gov. Rick Scott as cleanup from Hurricane Hermine continued Sunday.

The county had the largest number of homes without power after the storm, and Scott on Sunday called for Tallahassee and Leon County to hire private contractors he had identified to help remove remaining downed trees and limbs.

In a news release, Scott said Tallahassee and Leon County declined further state Department of Transportation "cut and toss" assistance to clear fallen trees and limbs.

But city and county officials were quick to say they have never declined assistance from the state. Instead, they have moved on to the next phase in the cleanup process --- debris removal --- which is being done with the collaboration of the state, they said.

"With respect to the city of Tallahassee declining 'cut-and-toss' assistance, that's absolutely not where we are," Mayor Andrew Gillum told Scott during a roundtable Sunday at the state Emergency Operations Center. "As far as we're concerned, the city of Tallahassee has no intentions, nor have we given any signal --- certainly not myself or the city manager --- that we wish to disrupt that process."

Leon County Administrator Vincent Long added there has never been any determination to decline state help.

With about 40,000 homes still without power in Leon County on Sunday, Scott said, "We need to be as aggressive as we can" in the relief effort.

"Every business that is not open has the risk of someone losing their job," Scott said. "I can tell you stories from traveling the state that there's a lot of people that are living paycheck to paycheck, they're getting paid hourly, and when they don't have a job it has a dramatic effect on their family."

Hermine knocked out power to some 253,000 Floridians, with more than 70,000 homes going dark in Leon County.

The storm made landfall near St. Marks in Wakulla County, south of Leon County around 1:30 a.m. Friday.

In Wakulla County, power was out for 99 percent of the residents on Friday. Electricity is projected to be back to 98 percent of the residents by Thursday.

Gillum said the cleanup and power restoration in Tallahassee is ahead of schedule, as it was initially projected to take a week.

"Our folks have been working overtime," Gillum said. "We also recognize that even in spite of that, there are people in the community that are still displaced and discomforted."

Long said Scott's desired 100 percent of people with power is unattainable as the remaining properties were those severely damaged by the storm.

Adding to the efforts, Pensacola-based Gulf Power stationed 77 additional crew members in Leon County on Sunday, bringing its relief effort to 100 in the region.

Schools are scheduled to open Tuesday in Gulf, Franklin, Liberty, Levy, Citrus and Pinellas counties.

Dixie County anticipates opening on Tuesday, while Taylor County will make a decision by noon Monday.

Leon and Wakulla county schools will remain closed Tuesday and plan to resume Wednesday. Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College are scheduled to reopen Wednesday. Florida A&M University will reopen Tuesday.

State Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said an issue for school districts is ensuring the safety of students traveling to and from campus.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said the state --- working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration --- will begin assessing the local damages on Tuesday.

Dixie and Levy counties will be the first visited, Koon said.