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Federal long-term recovery dollars to be released

Tim Croft

This registry is one on which states suffering natural disasters hope to be included.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week released its Federal Registry of disaster funding for states impacted by natural disasters the past three years, from Alaska to Florida.

More importantly for that area of Florida impacted by Hurricane Michael, the Registry earmarks more than $700 million for unmet needs in Gulf, Bay, Calhoun and Jackson counties as well as certain areas of Franklin, Liberty, Washington, Gadsden and Wakulla counties.

“This is what we all have been waiting for,” said Port St. Joe City Manager Jim Anderson.

The funding, under the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) program, shall be no less than $588 million, according to the Registry.

“This is big money for the area,” said Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe). “I think there is a hope in (Gulf County) to receive $100 million to assist in creating workforce housing.”

The announcement arrived with a few relevant caveats.

First, the money will flow from the federal government to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and that agency was waiting on the Federal Registry to put any plan in place, Shoaf indicated.

The local process begins 3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday when FDEO will hold a workshop at the PSJ City Commission meeting room.

And it should be noted that the governor announced just this week an action plan submittal to HUD for grants pertaining to natural disasters 2017-2019; a timeline for the money is unknown.

Additionally, the county is hampered due to the typical local match requirement that tag along with CDBG grant funding.

The county has been lobbying officials in Washington and Tallahassee to waive some match requirements for small, fiscally-constrained counties.

“We want that matching dollars taken off the table,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond.

“Our number one priority in discussions with the state is no match.”

For example, the county is currently seeking a waiver of a $1.8 million match required to receive $9.7 million in FEMA dollars.

Rep. Loranne Ausley (D-Tallahassee) said during last weekend’s semi-annual meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County that a rural economic development bill to be heard in committee this week would address the issue.

The measure would reduce the matches required of local governments to receive such grant funding.

In addition to the announcement of the Federal Registry, the Florida House of Representatives finalized its budget last week and Shoaf had several projects included.

He filed more than 60, he said, and five are included in the House budget.

There is $750,000 for workforce housing, but with a key requirement.

“We wanted to make it broad, so in the language we require Florida Housing not to use State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) requirements for spending on very-low, low or moderate incomes,” Shoaf said. “There would be no quotas.”

Shoaf said he is also working with the Department of Corrections on a pilot project to provide proximity housing for correctional officers.

There is also $125,000 for a new splash pad for the city of Port St. Joe which intended the pad for George Core Park but commissioners have made no final decision.

Shoaf also secured $100,000 for sewer projects in Port St. Joe, ostensibly for repair of one of three lift stations.

The big ticket item is $1.650 million to upgrade the communication system for the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office to enhance response among agencies in the event of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael.

During the CCA meeting, Shoaf said he and State Sen. Bill Monford (D-Tallahassee) have made a “high priority” securing funding for a project to construct breakwaters to slow down the natural tides along St. Joseph Peninsula.

And, as an aside, he said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was targeting July 2121 for the full re-opening of T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

The House has yet to enter into conference with the Senate on the final budget so the state of any of the projects remains unknown.

“It has been going great,” Shoaf said after the first two weeks of his first session. “I’ve been learning; there is so much information you need to learn.

“But I think it is really about relationships so I am learning how to effect state government to produce the best results; that is what I am aiming for.”