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Politics

Panama City's Trumbull Files 41 Bills in One Day for Hurricane-Ravaged Panhandle

February 7, 2019 - 6:00am

Rep. Jay Trumbull is casting a wide net in search of money for his storm-ravaged Panhandle district.

As House members continued to submit projects to be considered for the state’s 2019-2020 budget, Trumbull on Tuesday submitted 41 bills --- worth a total of $253 million --- all with an eye on Hurricane Michael recovery.

Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who represents most of hard-hit Bay County, called it “a good start.”

“I think the, ‘You have not, because you asked not,’ rings very true in this process,” Trumbull said. “It’s never easy going through this process and trying to get every single project funded. It’s an uphill battle for sure. But I think a lot will fall on when some of the dust settles and if we can understand where the federal government is going to come in on their dollar amounts.”

Overall, House members had filed --- as of Wednesday morning --- 452 individual projects, which, if all were funded, would require a little more than $1.02 billion. Trumbull accounts for 43 bills, with all directed at storm recovery, worth $279.4 million.

The House and Senate will negotiate a 2019-2020 budget during the legislative session that starts March 5. Recovery from Hurricane Michael, which caused billions of dollars of damage in Northwest Florida after making landfall Oct. 10, is expected to be a major issue during the session.

Trumbull’s proposals include $4 million for Oscar Patterson Elementary School (HB 2841), $35 million for Springfield Elementary School (HB 2827), and $400,000 for Oakland Terrace Elementary School (HB 2843).

The three schools were temporarily closed Tuesday by the Bay County School Board, as each has seen a sharp decline in students as vast areas of housing remain uninhabitable from the October storm. The hope is that the schools would reopen when the population returns.

Most of Trumbull’s proposals were focused on schools, including $15 million for Tyndall Elementary School (HB 2859) and $10 million for Rutherford High School, which has been shifted into a sixth- through 12th-grade facility for the rest of the school year (HB 2833).

Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Mexico Beach in southeastern Bay County. Turnbull last week submitted a $25 million request (HB 2359) for beach restoration in Mexico Beach.

Among other requests, Trumbull has proposed spending $5 million for a water main at the Hathaway Bridge, which connects Panama City with Panama City Beach (HB 2809).

Besides Trumbull’s requests, House members have made at least $30 million more in proposals that appear tied to hurricane recovery or bulking up facilities against future storms.

For example, Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, has requested $350,000 to harden the Fort Walton Beach Recreation Center for emergency operations (HB 2255).

Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, has separate measures for backup generators that would assist a secondary special-needs shelter in Leon County (HB 2271) and for the Leon County branch libraries (HB 2273), with those proposals coming to a total of $1.3 million. Also, Ausley proposed $485,000 for mental-health and telehealth services for children and families impacted by Michael (HB 2683).

One of the House districts hardest hit by the storm, District 7, is vacant because former Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The seat, which represents areas such as Gulf, Franklin, Calhoun, Liberty and Wakulla counties, might not be filled until after the end of the legislative session.

House members, unlike in the Senate, are required to file separate bills for their projects. The requests are separate from hurricane-related spending included in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $93.1 billion budget released last week.

Also, the projects are separate from proposals such as a bill (SB 376) by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, to designate $50 million a year from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to help with Hurricane Michael recovery. Also, Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, has proposed a measure (HB 191) to create the Northwest Florida Rural Inland Affected Counties Recovery Fund, which would receive a portion of money from the state’s share of the BP settlement over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Meanwhile, the board of Triumph Gulf Coast --- a legislatively created organization that oversees BP settlement money --- will meet Friday to consider designating some of the money it oversees to offer loans to local governments for Hurricane Michael recovery.

Outside the Panhandle, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, has proposed $3 million for emergency and critical power generators in Hendry County (HB 2731). Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey, is seeking $5 million for a hurricane evacuation shelter in Sarasota County (HB 2713). And Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, wants $1 million for a hurricane- hardening project in Lauderdale Lakes (HB 2245).

Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, has asked for $1.5 million for a community center and emergency facility in Pahokee (HB 2119) and $2.5 million for a multi-purpose shelter in South Bay (HB 2127).

As of Wednesday morning, House Republicans had submitted an overall total of 296 proposed projects totaling $792 million, while Democrats had filed 156 bills seeking $232 million. 

Comments

Maybe I am missing something, but do these municipalities and school districts have INSURANCE, like the rest of us, for hurricane losses? In a hurricane-prone state, are they not REQUIRED to carry insurance? I am amazed that states with chronic flooding problems and forest fires dont carry insurance for these things. Why are the taxpayers being taxed to pay for local problems? Are the taxpayers supposed to just pony up over and over? Doesn't seem right to me. And this goes for Puerto Rico as well. That place has been a disaster for years, with gross mismanagement of their funds. And now they want the mainland taxpayers to rebuild their whole island? WHERE WAS THEIR INSURANCE?

Hurricane recovery is very difficult because outside workers and service providers and those trying to provide assistance, really have no place to live or eat and fresh water and sanitary services are usually non-existent. First move should be the military building a fully self-contained and maintained "tent city", i.e., a "mobile military base", to house and feed the local homeless and those providing outside assistance and services (including medical, e.g., a 'MASH' unit). At one time, the U.S. Army was very good at doing this!

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