Gov. DeSantis vetoes $300,000 for Bonita Springs home buyout program

Thaddeus Mast
Naples Daily News
Aerial view of flooded Quinn Street in Bonita Springs on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, six days after Hurricane Irma.

A Bonita Springs voluntary home buyout program is shaken after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $300,000 payment from the 2021-22 annual budget.

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, represents Bonita Springs and said she spoke to the governor’s office about the cut. She said veto decision was based on the money’s source, not the buyout program. The $300,000 would have come from the state’s general fund, and the governor’s office said the funding should come from disaster funds, Passidomo said.

“There’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money available for (the buyout program),” she said. “I’m going to work with the governor’s staff to locate those dollars and make sure Bonita Springs has the ability to apply for them.”

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Nayeli Vasquez, left, and her aunt, Basilica Ventura, right, carry the last salvageable valuables out of their flooded home on Quinn Street after Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs on Sept. 12, 2017.

The voluntary home buyout program will continue despite the lost funding. Bonita Springs received a $5 million grant in 2019 from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The $300,000 was an additional funding request that passed through the Legislature before being vetoed, Councilor Jesse Purdon said.

“We’re still moving forward,” Purdon said.

Passidomo said she is working with Bonita Springs staff and councilors to “make sure we get the funding.”

“It’s not lost,” she said. “It’s just that the governor didn’t feel we need to use general fund money when we could avail ourselves of FEMA funds.”

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo listens during a news conference in March where Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 72, giving COVID liability protections to Florida businesses.

The new budget year doesn’t begin until Oct. 1, and Passidomo said she’ll work through the summer to find money for the buyout program.

The vetoed money joins about 150 other line items that DeSantis cut from the $100 billion budget.

Voluntary home buyout program

The Bonita Springs voluntary home buyout program began in 2019 with a $5 million grant from the Rebuild Florida Voluntary Home Buyout Program, operated by the DEO.

The buyout is aimed at residents in flood-prone neighborhoods, specifically the Quinn Street and Downs Drive area.

The Imperial River spilled over its banks and into streets and homes twice in a four-week span in 2017. After Hurricane Irma, waist-high water stood in the neighborhood for more than a week.

More than 70 homeowners applied for the buyout program, according to city officials. The city has not announced who will get the money. Priority was given to households with lower incomes and occupied by elderly people or young children.

After a home is selected a property appraiser will give a fair market value of the home before it was flooded in 2017. According to the Lee County property appraiser, most homes in the neighborhood are worth $200,000 or less.

Last week, City Council selected Florida Acquisition and Appraisal Inc. to appraise the homes. The contract is based on services per household and does not have a set budget.

Thaddeus Mast is a south Lee County reporter for the Naples Daily News and The Banner. Support his work by subscribing to our local news organization. Find him on Twitter as @thaddeusmast.