Posted on October 23, 2023
A $350 million fund the state legislature approved for Hurricane Ian recovery throughout the state will largely be felt in the way of interest-free loans in Lee County.
For Fort Myers Beach, the final aid figures for now are an $8 million grant for beach renourishment and a $5 million loan for several projects out of a $338 million distribution announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis on the anniversary of Hurricane Ian Sept. 28. The funds are part of a process in which municipalities requested aid through the Division of Emergency Management for various projects.
The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District was awarded $14 million from the state. Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Scott Wirth said $9 million of the funds will help relocate and replace Fire Station 31 off Donora Blvd., which he said was “damaged beyond repair by the devastating effects of storm surge and wind.” The remaining $5 million will be used to help the district make up for approximately $7.5 million in lost property tax revenue for the 2022-23 and 2023-25 budget years.
The town will also benefit from a nearly $7.7 million grant to Lee County that will be used for turtle-friendly lighting on Estero Blvd. The town had requested the funds though they are being directed to Lee County, which owns Estero Blvd.
Those funds are on top of a separate $11.9 million emergency bridge loan from the state earlier in the year that the town is seeking to have forgiven and a $10 million stormwater grant.
Out of the $338 million in funds announced by DeSantis Sept. 28, $51 million will be in the form of interest-free loans for the School District of Lee County and $51 million will go to the city of Cape Coral in the form of interest-free loans. Those loans are meant to help with projects that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be reimbursing. The city of Sanibel has been earmarked for $28 million – although a precise breakdown in how the aid will be sent there was not available. The Sanibel Fire and Rescue District is also getting $8 million from the state.
Town of Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers said the town applied for approximately $24 million in aid from the state. Those projects include roads, temporary trailers for Town Hall, Times Square, stormwater drainage, water towers and water lines.
Allers said he will be going up to the state capitol this month to request funding from the state legislature in its next budget session for revenue reimbursement, a new town hall and infrastructure.
The town still hasn’t received word from state officials as to whether the town’s $11.9 million bridge loan from the state will be forgiven. State Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-33), who represents Fort Myers Beach, said there are talks ongoing about forgiving the loan or the interest. The interest balloons to 10% after a year.
Allers said that when the $13 million the town is receiving directly from the state in its latest package is coupled with the approximately $7.7 million in aid the county will be using for the lights, it is close to the $24 million sought by the town. Allers said the town was advised by Tidal Basin, the contractor it has been working with on state and FEMA aid requests, to apply for loans as well as grants.
A large amount of the town’s aid requests were for loans.
The town did not seek aid in its application to the Florida Division of Emergency Management for a permanent town hall project in its application as it continues to finalize plans for the town hall. Town officials currently envision working out of trailers for its town offices for the next three to four years.
Earlier this year, the town’s previous managers Chris Holley and Keith Wilkins forwarded a request for $24 million to the state legislature to replace town hall, but those funds were never included in the state budget. The town also sought $8 million in aid during the state budget process for a reimbursement of revenue loss, which the state legislature and Gov. DeSantis did not put into the budget.
In the town’s 2023-24 budget, approximately $3.47 million of the state’s bridge loan will be used to balance the town’s budget in order to avoid a tax increase.
Other aid figures announced by DeSantis for Lee County include $4.3 million to Lee Memorial Health Systems, $1 million to Captiva Erosion Prevention District, $600,000 to the City of Fort Myers and $350,000 to Captiva Fire Control District.
Lee County Government Chief Financial Officer Pete Winton announced last week that the county is receiving a $100 million, zero-interest loan from the state to help with cash flow. Winton said the funds will also be used for FEMA projects that the county expects to be reimbursed for through FEMA. Winton said the $100 million was only a partial amount of what the county is expecting to spend on Hurricane Ian recovery. The county has spent approximately $125 million on rebuilding projects already, and is looking at an estimated $280 million in total recovery projects.
Winton said the funds will help reimburse what the county has already spent on debris removal as well as current and future projects at Boca Grande Community Park, the countywide lift station, LeeTran Beach Park, Lee County Sports Complex Stadium lighting, Matanzas Pass Preserve repairs, the Sanibel Toll Plaza, the county’s waste to energy facility, water reclamation facility and Kelly Road Soccer Complex. No mention was made of the Fort Myers Beach Pier, Lynn Hall Memorial Park or Bowditch Point Park.
The Fort Myers Beach Observer requested from the Florida Division of Emergency Management a full list of all the allocations the $338 million has been earmarked for. That list has not yet been released by the department as of Oct. 15 despite the department having announcing the distributions Sept. 28.