PANAMA CITY — There’s a fine line to walk for city officials after code enforcement began Oct. 11 for properties damaged by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018.
On one side, officials want to be sensitive to the needs of people who are trying to rebuild what they once had.
On the other side, Bay County appraisers estimate property values in Panama City will have dropped 14.2 percent in 2020 — numbers that can only come up again after properties damaged beyond repair are demolished.
“Any time you can clean up, it’s obviously going to have some benefits,” Mayor Greg Brudnicki said. “But we also have to understand that there are a lot of people who are making the effort to do just that, and a lot of people are still negotiating with insurance companies.
“All of the properties need to be checked within a certain amount of time, and all of them need to be given the chance to comply," Brudnicki added. "We want everybody to know we’re going to be proactive, but we also need to be sensitive to the citizens who are dealing with this.”
City officials did not respond to a request for information on how many demolitions had been carried out.
One sign of progress officials can point to is the demolition of the old Bay County Public Library and the soon-to-be demolished former City Hall that stands next to it. In its place will be a proposed hotel built by The St. Joe Company.
“We’re going to have a community meeting in the future where people will be able to give some thoughts on the design (of the hotel),” Panama City Public Information Officer Caitlin Lawrence said. “All of this fits within the long-term recovery plan and the strategic vision that’s in place for rebuilding Panama City.”
Brudnicki said three new magistrate judges have been hired to deal with code enforcement in a more timely manner. EPCI Code Administration Systems is still being used to issue permits for demolitions.
“The fact is, that there is a lot of absentee ownership,” Brudnicki said. “Owners live on the other side of the country and these are vacation homes, and they may have just seen a picture (of the damage). But the property is still being neglected.”