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County commission adds to pay for code enforcement, takes no action on emergency orders

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The October 6 Special Meeting of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) began with a COVID-19 presentation from Paul Myers, Florida Department of Health Administrator for Alachua County. He said that he had discovered that 2 of Alachua County’s 63 (at the time) COVID deaths were non-Florida residents, so the correct total would be 61. 

He also explained why there’s a difference between the number of deaths reported in the past few weeks (17) and the number of deaths that actually happened in the past few weeks (1): “Again on the deaths… That’s when the state reports the deaths. What I have here is in the last two weeks, that’s the date of death, so the date of death and when the state reports the death are two completely different metrics.”

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He said most of the transmission at the university is in the dorms, and the risk is shifting from house parties to bars. 

He compared Alachua County’s rate of death in long-term care with other counties, showing that we’re “outperforming everybody. Leon is a little bit behind us but still doing very well. Again, I attribute this to the early protective actions that we took.”

He showed the prevalence of various co-morbidities in the county’s COVID deaths: “Again the top three things that people need to be aware of–hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. I see these death reports, and many of the individuals are morbidly obese. Obesity is a big risk factor.”

“Any positive COVID result for an individual who has perished is counted as a COVID death. Except for trauma, suicide, if it was a gunshot, or a car accident. It’s counted as a COVID death.”

Myers continued, “In terms of COVID deaths, Commissioner Byerly had asked a question last time I presented, and so I did a little digging, and any positive COVID result for an individual who has perished is counted as a COVID death. Except for trauma, suicide, if it was a gunshot, or a car accident. It’s counted as a COVID death. And, in fact, 25 of our 63 deaths in Alachua County, these are individuals who were in hospice. These are not individuals who are out and in good health. They just weren’t. So 25 of 63 were in hospice. And so I think that that should allay some of the fears out there. But again we have to protect the most vulnerable in our community.”

CARES Act

The board also discussed the possibility of using about $2.5 million of CARES Act money to purchase a 35-unit motel for housing “vulnerable populations.” Staff members were unsure whether such a purchase would meet CARES Act requirements; County Manager Michele Lieberman said, “The concern I have is that we put this under scrutiny, we put everything under scrutiny, and I don’t think that we want to put ourselves in that position.” She said it was a good opportunity but that they should find another way to purchase it besides CARES Act funds. An attorney on the call also warned that CARES Act money can’t be used to solve long-term homelessness; it can only be used to mitigate impacts from COVID. The board decided to ask staff to investigate the idea more and bring it back to their first meeting in November. 

City of Newberry’s CARES Act request denied

Lieberman told the board that the County had received correspondence from the Newberry City Attorney regarding Newberry’s request for reimbursement funds under the CARES Act: “As you’re aware, the Board has a policy, it’s part of the requirements that you must comply with the Board’s–any state, federal or county orders with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter makes the request on the basis of the governor’s order, which says that fines and penalties are waived. However, I would point out, as the board is aware, one, that only applies to individuals, two, that does not provide we cannot assess them, only that we can’t collect them, and so really that is inapplicable to Newberry. They did submit their CARES Act subrecipient agreement, however they modified that part to say they would comply with the state’s orders. So they have made the request they be allowed to submit and receive their funding under CARES as was allocated to that municipality.”

Commissioner Ken Cornell responded, “I’m going to request that we deny Newberry,” and he added this to his motion: “Request that the Chair write a letter to the City of Newberry, denying their request.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Extra pay for code enforcement

The Board next unanimously decided to add $12.50 to the hourly rate of code enforcement officers when enforcing emergency orders, with a minimum of a 2-hour shift. The funds are reimbursable through the CARES Act as a part of the County’s cost allocation. 

Changes to the emergency order

Board Chair Robert Hutchinson discussed some options regarding a new emergency order: 1) Don’t substantively amend the order and continue to issue citations to individuals, understanding that collection of fines is currently suspended by the governor. 2) Amend the order to hold businesses liable for their customers wearing masks and social distancing; that is not currently prohibited by the governor’s order. 3) Amend the order to permit enforcement of social distancing requirements against patrons waiting in line on public property. 

Cornell said he didn’t think the County should start issuing citations. Regarding the other options, he said he’d prefer to wait for the Gainesville City Commission to “opine as a board” before acting. After some discussion, Hutchinson said, “I think maybe the way to move forward this week anyway is to… come out with an order that says the signage needs to be there and then have our, now well paid, code enforcement officers knock on doors who don’t have a sign, hand them a sign, and if they don’t put up the sign, cite them. Work on signage for a while with the hope that the university and the City and our folks will come up with maybe a more compelling messaging campaign that works for college students.” After the others agreed with that plan, he said, “All right. Thanks, I’m back in charge.”

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