Florida Hurricane Recovery Task Force Flooded With Ideas

PANAMA CITY — Work on a comprehensive recovery plan for Bay County and its six cities is proceeding on schedule with significant public interest and participation in the project, a senior consultant to the county said Thursday.

Gary Yates, a senior partner in the Tallahassee-based firm The Integrity Group, told the Bay County Long-Term Recovery Task Force, “Public input has been significant” in recent weeks with citizens proposing 245 specific recommendations for hurricane recovery and long-term growth. Six volunteer task force branches are continuing with workshops across the county to solicit additional ideas and then to refine concepts for inclusion in a county-wide draft recovery plan.

One next step will occur within the next few weeks as the consultants meet one-on-one with county and city officials to gather “leadership inputs” for the recovery plan, Yates said. “We want to build that into the matrix … a complete picture of all of the damage and all of the ideas” for rebuilding, he said.

Yates said that the task force and its volunteers are on schedule to conduct a major workshop within 30 days where the public will be able to see a full roster of proposals for reviving the county and its economy from Hurricane Michael. That meeting will set the stage for the writing of a draft report that — when formally approved by the task force — will constitute the “united front” that the county, cities and school district will present to seek federal and state financial aid to resurrect Bay County from the storm’s devastation.

During the task force’s meeting, consultant Eric Swider of Renatus Advisors previewed several significant topics that will be at the top of the list.

“One of the most urgent needs is housing,” Swider said.

The task force branch on housing led by Michael Johnson, Panama City’s director of community development, will be taking the lead in compiling specific recommendations in that area. Another area of interest is the recently created federal “Economic Opportunity Zones,” which provide significant tax benefits for private investors putting money into distressed areas.

In remarks to the task force, Johnson cautioned that building new housing to offset the storm losses will comprise a major part of recovery investments and new projects will take at least a year from inception to the end of construction. The task force is eyeing funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and private investors as the primary sources of storm assistance, including housing.

Independent of the completion of the formal task force report, Swider said one future milestone already is in the planning stage: an economic investment opportunity conference where political leaders and the county’s business community will meet with private investors about injecting their capital into rebuilding projects. That event tentatively is scheduled for late summer or early fall.

Information on the task force and storm recovery concepts submitted for consideration can be found at its website at www.recoverbaycounty.com.

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