Florida man pays past-due utility bills for 114 families

PENSACOLA, Fla. – When Gulf Breeze, Florida, veteran and business owner Mike Esmond graciously paid the past-due utility bills of 36 households in December 2019, he did so in the name of a holiday good deed. He could relate to those struggling after struggling himself years ago. 

This year, a more pressing feeling made Esmond decide to pay the overdue bills of 114 households in Gulf Breeze, almost doubling his donation total from 2019 in the process. His city, after all, was uniquely impacted by the combination of September’s Hurricane Sally and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Gulf Breeze is just a ghost town,” Esmond said Monday, referring to the drastic decrease in incoming traffic caused by the Pensacola Bay Bridge shutdown. “Normally there’s 55,000 cars a day that go through to buy gas and stop at McDonald’s or Waffle House. There’s nothing now, there’s no traffic. Zero.” 

Just as he did last December, the 74-year-old owner of Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas visited his City Hall this month and requested a list of all utility accounts that were past due and at risk of having their gas and water turned off. He then promptly donated to all 114 accounts. 

Esmond is confident the massive jump in overdue accounts is tied to unemployment brought on by the pandemic and the financial woes incurred by the shutdown of the bridge. On Sept. 16, unmoored Skanska USA barges slammed into the bridge and put it out of commission until at least March 2021. 

“Even if we didn’t have the hurricane, I felt like the pandemic alone made it more critical for me to do something,” Esmond said. “Last year, I did something just to help people out. This year, it’s more meaningful.”

Esmond’s second good deed totaled $7,615.40, according to Gulf Breeze Utility Billing Supervisor Joanne Oliver. He paid off about $4,600 worth of bills last year. 

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