Panama City seeks additional $5 million for voluntary buyout program
PANAMA CITY — City commissioners are asking the Department of Economic Opportunity for an additional $5 million to boost the voluntary home buyout program after Hurricane Michael.
The program is designed to acquire Category 5 hurricane-damaged properties that are in high-risk flood-prone areas and help homeowners relocate outside of flood-prone areas. DEO officials informed the city in August that cash values will be determined using current fair market value. Previously, cash value was limited to pre-Hurricane Michael fair market value.
So far, funding for the program remains capped at $5 million. City officials said the additional $5 million was needed to purchase the 37 properties on the target list.
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City Manager Mark McQueen said he and Mayor Greg Brudnicki wrote to DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle asking for the extra money. Prior to Michael, city officials requested a $7.2 million loan from the DEO but received $5 million.
“Since then, we are very grateful that the DEO revised its rules to allow for fair market values and appraisals after Hurricane Michael,” McQueen said. “That now means the cost of the program will be around $10 million.”
While awaiting word from WD, McQueen said progress has already been made.
“We’ve already started the environmental assessments. We’ve already completed the assessments and now it’s going to break this topic down into three different phases,” McQueen said. “The first phase is fully funded and this criterion will allow us to delineate phase two and phase three.”
Commissioner Joshua Street said the program was something city officials had been working on for years, especially last year.
“What we’ve seen is that housing costs have gone up, we want to make sure people whose homes are being bought have the option to go to another home,” Street said. “It created more funds to buy all the houses, so we had to narrow the criteria and refine the target to really be able to buy the houses at fair market value. And we certainly hope to get people out of the flooded areas very soon. .”
Street said they focused on homes on Lake Avenue and Cincinnati Avenue because of their history of flooding.
“These homes have been flooded for decades and the city has spent millions of dollars trying to fix the problem,” Street said. “It’s just part of where all the pipes and all the drainage ends up. And unfortunately, it’s the most cost-effective way to help people really find a solution to the flooding problem.”
Brudnicki pointed out that the city hasn’t received any money yet, but has been approved for the first $5 million loan and is seeking the additional $5 million.
It’s unclear when city officials will hear from the DEO, officials said.
Street said they aim to expand the program in the future, looking at 85 additional homes in the city that are regularly flooded.
“We still have more to do and we’re doing it through stormwater, parks and how we’re renovating our parks. We’re doing it with infrastructure improvements, and even this area will help alleviate flooding in d ‘other areas of the city,” Street said. “We’re really trying to look at a strategic approach, so that we can really address the flooding across the city.”