DeSantis denies state funding for four Bay County projects

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BAY COUNTY — Governor Ron DeSantis has denied Bay County $17 million in public funds requested by local leaders to fund four projects.

However, it has approved more than $26 million in funding for six other local projects.

The rejection was part of $3.1 billion in programs and projects that DeSantis vetoed to be part of the state’s $109.9 billion budget, which he approved on June 2 and which is expected to come into force on July 1.

Two of the four local projects that were vetoed were requested by Panama City officials. It’s $5 million to fund improvements to four parks and $2 million for a stormwater management study.

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The other two were fired for $8 million to fund improvements to Bay County’s water treatment plant and $2 million for Culinary Institute Empowerment Cafe and !nklusion Coffee Shops.

“These (projects) were important to our community because of the impact they (would) have on the lives of our citizens,” said Panama City Director Mark McQueen. “We understand and recognize that the governor has a very difficult job. … He has to look at the whole state, the state budget and the priorities for the future of the state.”

McQueen noted that in light of DeSantis’ decision, the city has now redirected its efforts to finding alternative funding sources for both of its projects.

The first concerns the renovations of Carl Gray Park, McKenzie Park, Joe Moody Harris Park and Hentz Park. The second concerns an in-depth study to determine how to better manage stormwater on the south side of the city.

Although DeSantis did not approve their funding, he did approve a combined budget of $11.5 million to fund two additional projects in Panama City, McQueen said. They include $3.5 million to renovate sewer infrastructure in part of King’s Point and $8 million to add sidewalks throughout the community.

“The city will keep moving forward because we are committed to being the premier city in the Panhandle,” McQueen said. “With that, it means we need to improve our … key and vital infrastructure (and) our quality of life assets.”

McKenzie Park in Panama City has renovations on the horizon.  Photographed on Wednesday March 3, 2021.

In addition to the two vetoed Panama City projects, two other Bay County projects were also denied, one of which requires $8 million to expand the Bay County water treatment plant to meet to the future growth of the region.

According to County Infrastructure Manager Keith Bryant, the money would have funded the installation of another water storage intake and additional operational improvements.

Like McQueen, Bryant said the county plans to find another way to fund the project. He also said DeSantis approved more than $14.6 million in funding for four additional county projects.

Volunteers clean up Joe Moody Harris Park on Saturday.  Community members organized the cleanup of the park after becoming frustrated that it was taking so long for the city to clean it up.  The park has been closed since it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael.

These projects are $10 million to fund improvements to the Bay County Military Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, $2 million to fund a Fire and Emergency Medical Services Maintenance Facility, 1 $.5 million to add more beds at Bay County Jail for drug addicted inmates and $1.15 million for dredging in Watson Bayou.

While Bryant was unaware of the denied request for Culinary Institute Empowerment Cafe and !nklusion Coffee Shops, information on the Arc of the Bay website says the stores help support the nonprofit organization. nonprofit, which strives to provide opportunities for adults with disabilities.

“We’re always thrilled when the state is able to work with us and help fund some of these projects and help us move forward,” Bryant said. “We have a great partnership with the Legislature which has really helped improve our community.”

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