PANAMA CITY — Warning that a lack of disaster relief funding from Tallahassee and Congress will have disastrous consequences, Bay County Commission Chair Philip Griffitts laid it all on the table during a press conference Thursday to pressure state and federal lawmakers into action.
“Bay County, Panama City, Lynn Haven, Parker, Springfield, Callaway, Mexico Beach, will not survive without help,” he said. “They will not survive. You cannot survive when your debris hauling bill is 10-times your budget.”
Local communities were drowning, first in the millions of cubic yards of debris left behind by Hurricane Michael in October, then in the massive bills to clean it up. It’s estimated Hurricane Michael dropped over a million trees in Panama City alone. For unincorporated Bay County, the debris hauling bill is about $380 million, but factoring in the municipalities, Griffitts estimated the cost will end up being around $750 million, or three-quarters of a billion dollars.
“That’s just not feasible for a community this size,” he said.
The county, he said, did a cost analysis, comparing the costs for Miami-Dade County in Hurricane Irma to Bay County’s costs for Hurricane Michael. Based on their damage assessment, they found it would have cost each person in Miami-Dade $130 to bail them out of hurricane debt.
In Bay County, it would cost each person $3,600.
“So if you all want to pony up $3,600, we could get out of this real quick,” he joked.
Griffitts said that while their local delegation is solid, Tallahassee seems uninterested in passing bills for disaster relief. He said Kionne McGhee, the Florida House Minority Leader, told him if they were Miami-Dade, they wouldn’t be worrying about money. McGhee recently visited Bay County to tour the destruction and vowed to bring more lawmakers back.
“I sat in his office and he said those very words to me,” he said. ”‘If you had a Miami-Dade shirt on, Griff, you wouldn’t be asking for money.’ That’s sad. That’s truly sad.”
Even their state delegation in Congress, Griffitts said, has been working toward the unified goal, with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fl, touring the area and “holding hands across the aisle with Congressman Dunn to fight for Florida,” Griffitts said.
“I don’t believe the other 49 states really care about hurricane relief,” he said.