Fla. city first responders awarded $1.1M hurricane recovery grant
The grant is part of $25 million in funding for a state grant program to support communities affected by Hurricane Michael
By Collin Breaux
The News-Herald, Panama City, Fla.
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday major relief funding for first responders in Mexico Beach, nearly a year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small waterfront town.
DeSantis, surrounded by state and local government officials, announced a $1.1 million grant for the Mexico Beach Fire Department and law enforcement operations. The grant is part of $25 million in funding for a state grant program to support communities affected by Hurricane Michael. Debris costs were more than $60 million in Mexico Beach, where the annual budget was $3.5 million dollars.
"We knew that some of the local services were in jeopardy," said DeSantis, who has frequently spoken in and advocated for affected areas since taking office. "This grant represents a lifeline to be able to keep this fire department up and running."
Mexico Beach and surrounding affected areas are continuing to recover as municipalities figure out how to fund recovery efforts, buildings are still in disarray and businesses deal with reduced staff size as people flee the area, partially due to a lack of affordable and adequate housing. Residents are also dealing with mental health issues and fighting with insurance companies.
Fire Chief Sandy Walker, who became interim chief days before the storm hit, thanked everyone who has "worked tirelessly" behind the scenes to ensure first responders, residents and visitors remain safe. Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10 near Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base as a Category 5 storm.
"We will endeavor to continue what we have done and rebuild what we'd only just finished building before the storm," Walker said. "It's just a big thank you from all of us here in Mexico Beach."
Residents were grateful to hear of the grant. Cathey Hobbs said the town was blessed to have the support of DeSantis and Mayor Al Cathey, who is her first cousin.
"We've been brokenhearted by the storm. It's just torn up so much history and all," Hobbs said. "We hope it comes back close to what it is. I'm for the fire department and police department fully, whatever's best for them. We're in good hands for the decisions to be made."
Mike LaPlante said more funding will "absolutely" help Mexico Beach.
"Look around. It's terrible," LaPlante said. "It's been a year, and here we are. I'm still living in a house with holes in it."
However, LaPlante had questions about what will happen with law enforcement in Mexico Beach. The city council recently voted 3-2 to accept a proposal from the Bay County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement services. Members of the Mexico Beach Police Department can apply with the sheriff's office. City officials initially brought the idea to the sheriff's office.
State Rep. and Panama City native Jay Trumbull said it was a pleasure "to see something that we do in the legislature come to fruition in the form of this."
"As (DeSantis) said, pictures don't do it justice by any stretch, and I speak for a lot of folks that believe this is a forgotten storm," Trumbull said.
State Sen. and previous Bay County Commissioner George Gainer said DeSantis is helping the area get to the "other end of the situation."
"I know what Mexico Beach is all about, and we all want to bring it back, but we want to bring it back without removing any of the flavor and personal things it had before," Gainer said.
©2019 The News-Herald (Panama City, Fla.)