Mexico Beach rebuilds and waits for the bill

Mexico Beach

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Every day visitors to Mexico Beach can see progress.

Residents and business owners rebuild their homes and their lives while city workers repair and replace sewer infrastructure, sidewalks, government buildings and streets.

“And those projects are mainly bringing the city back to just the status quo,” said City Administrator Mario Gisbert. “And that was please understand there was no water system, there was no sewer system, there was no stormwater system the roads were devastated. the cleaning was monumental.”

More than two years after Hurricane Michael the city is finally starting to get past the debris removal stage of the rebuild.

“Cleaning our canal that had 85,000 cubic yards of sand in it. Not debris that’s just the sand,” Gisbert said. “Throw on top that we’ve spent over $30 million dollars removing homes, cars, lawnmowers, refrigerators from the canal and throughout the rest of the city.”

Faced with a loss in revenue because of a massive loss in property values the city raised its millage rate in 2019. It currently stands at 8 mills and amounts to 3-point-4 million in the 2021 budget.

Meanwhile, the city and FEMA have spent more than $50 million on the recovery and the final bill could total as much as $100 million.

“We’re doing things as quickly as we can with the funds that are coming in and we’re stretched thin,” Gisbert said.

Right now the city is relying on federal taxpayers to cover the costs. Eventually, it will have to pay its part of the costs based on federal government requirements.

“So what we will owe at the end of the day once this storm is over and done with and we can start to forget about it we’ll still owe approximately $5 million dollars for our component of match,” Gisbert said. “And that’s if it’s only 5 percent.”

Gisbert said five million is a conservative estimate and the final figure could be higher. Either way – the projection is already more than the city’s annual budget.

“Right now we really have to be working on keeping our budget strong so that when that debt comes in at the tail end we can afford to make that debt,” Gisbert said.

The city still doesn’t have a permanent home for law enforcement and the fire department. Gisbert expects it will be another two or three years before the city is fully repaired.

“Right now there’s some level of normalcy,” he added. “We just now have a gas station that is under construction. We just now have a restaurant that you go sit inside of.”

So the work and the spending will continue.

“It’s incredible what Mexico Beach has done in the last 26 to 27 months and it’s still got a lot to go for the next 26 to 27 months,” Gisbert said.

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