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City commission identifies “buckets” for about $20 million in ARPA funds

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their December 6 Special Meeting, the Gainesville City Commission put about $20 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into tentative buckets and asked staff to come back with specific plans on how to implement those priorities.

During the commission’s first discussion on allocating the funds, on October 19, commissioners voted to fund utility debt forgiveness at $250k, housing stabilization at $2.9 million ($1 million for eviction assistance + $1.9 million instead of the proposed $6 million for energy efficiency), and $7 million for nonprofits. The City has $32.4 million in ARPA funds plus $1.9 million in Housing and Urban Development funds to allocate, for a total of $34.3 million.

The first item on the December 6 agenda was approval of the issuance of a Request for Quote to hire an outside organization to vet and ultimately allocate the $7 million for non-profit organizations. That motion passed unanimously.

They next turned to placing the remaining funds into buckets that reflect their priorities for the money.

City staff recommended the hiring of a consultant to provide expert advice to staff on compliance and reporting. Commissioner Harvey Ward supported the idea, saying, “For folks who are not aware, there’s essentially a brand-new sub-industry of accounting that has popped up in the last few months, to be fully aware nationally of how this works and how the reporting is going to happen. And it’s a moving target; those guidelines continue to evolve. So we can put ourselves in a position of going out and hiring a new position or a series of new positions, more than likely, in that market, which is extremely competitive, and spend a whole lot more money to hire someone on full-time, to create these positions for something that’s going to go away in a few years, or we can repurpose someone or some people already on staff, stop what they are already doing, send them off to get a whole bunch of education to be able to do this correctly, and continue to keep them trained on that—or we can hire a person or a firm who is already doing this and outsource that for the period of time that is necessary.”

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Commissioner David Arreola added, “And my understanding is that the President has another spending package for social programs coming right after that, so the reality is this is just a really special time in this country right now. The work being done in Washington, the bills being passed by this President, we have not seen for a long time.”

As he did in the October 19 meeting, Ward argued that commissioner priorities like gun violence and broadband should be “set aside… until we can have a meeting with a plan in front of us.” However, he wanted to add $1 million for a Community Land Trust.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos made a motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Reina Saco and divided into several parts:

  • Approve replacement of $1,158,805 in revenue lost by the City during the pandemic. That passed unanimously.
  • Approve funding of $2.25 million for an urgent care clinic on the east side of Gainesville. That passed 5-1 with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent because she said she would like “to see UF partner with us a little bit differently.”
  • Approve funding of $400,000 for homeless outreach coordinators. That passed unanimously.
  • Approve funding of $300,000 for the City to purchase Personal Protective Equipment. That passed unanimously.
  • Have the City Manager lead the ARPA process with support from the other charter officers; hire a consultant to help with the process; refer the next stage in a violence reduction plan to a General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting; receive quarterly updates on ARPA spending at GPC administrative sessions; set aside the rest of the funds and ask staff to come back with a plan at a meeting in late January or early February for the Community Resource Paramedic program for $1 million, broadband at $9.6 million, violence intervention/Youth Corps/arts intervention at $1 million, Vision Zero capital at $1.25 million, an east side mobility hub at $2 million, and a Community Land Trust at $1 million. That passed unanimously.

The funds allocated in the motion came to about $19.95 million, but only about $4.1 million was fully approved, adding to almost $10 million that was approved on October 19. The rest of the funds will be approved later, based on the plans presented by City staff.

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