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Prizzia new County Commission Chair; board allocates ARPA funds to Community IDs, weatherization, Working Food, a meat processing facility, and a mobile produce market

New County Commission Chair Anna Prizzia speaks on December 6

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the beginning of their December 6 Special Meeting, the Alachua County Commission elected a new Chair and Vice Chair for the next year. Commissioner Ken Cornell nominated Commissioner Anna Prizzia as Chair and Commissioner Chuck Chestnut as Vice Chair. Outgoing Chair Marihelen Wheeler nominated newly-elected Commissioner Mary Alford as Vice Chair. The board unanimously approved Prizzia as Chair, and when the clerk moved on to a vote for Vice Chair, Chestnut said he would decline Cornell’s nomination and instead made a motion to make Alford the Vice Chair. That vote was also unanimous.

Prizzia said it was “exciting to have the team back together” and that she looks forward to “addressing the root causes of the problems we see in our community as well as the amazing work we get to do… It’s going to be a big year. Let’s get to work and get things done.”

American Rescue Plan – State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

The purpose of the meeting was to review and approve several projects that staff recommended for the County’s American Rescue Plan – State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The County set aside $15 million of their $52 million in ARPA funds for revenue recovery, which provides general support for lost revenues in 2020. The board allocated about $8 million last year and has $7 million to allocate this year. Of the $8 million allocated last year, all but the first two items were carried forward to this fiscal year and have not been spent yet. 

From the staff presentation at the December 6 County Commission meeting

The allocation for MUNIS is a one-time expense for new financial/human resources software. Other identified expenses include new roofs and HVAC units, renovation of the motel that was previously purchased, and an increased allocation for the County’s proposed radio system. The County previously decided to run their own radio system after Gainesville Regional Utilities drastically increased bills to users of the current system. 

Although the board previously allocated $15 million to broadband access, Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby said “everything is changing so rapidly” that he recommended delaying those discussions until February or March. 

$1.25 million for Santa Fe Hills water system

The board voted unanimously to allocate $1.25 million for upgrading the Santa Fe Hills water system, which the County acquired in receivership in 2002. The plan is to turn it over to the City of Alachua, once it’s upgraded. The board also voted to ask staff to bring back information about water quality at The Oaks of Hague after Tamara Robbins brought that up during public comment. 

Crosby told the board that since the County hadn’t used all the money that was previously allocated, they have a little over a million in excess funds available for reallocation. 

$106,000 for Community IDs

Prizzia interrupted to make a motion to reallocate $106,000 in funds ($53,000 per year for two years) to the Community ID program, which provides a secondary form of identification to people who find it difficult to get an official State ID. 

During public comment on the motion, Veronica Robleto, the first paid employee of the Human Rights Coalition, said the organization has provided about 280 IDs to the community. She said it might seem like they get a lot of money per ID, but it’s “wrap-around services, we assist newcomers to the area, we assist on orienting them to their rights and connecting them with other resources, legal resources, social services, medical, well, our great partners in the community.” She said that Alachua County was the first community in the state to support Community IDs, but now Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Tallahassee have adopted them, and Orange County will soon vote on them. She added that Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., has agreed to officially recognize the ID. 

Alford asked if Community IDs are still being encouraged for the general public to “normalize their use,” and Robleto answered that they are.

The motion to fund the Community IDs passed unanimously.

Grants to nonprofits

Crosby told the board that they have about $2.6 million in ARPA funds that have not yet been allocated. 

Betsy Riley, Alachua County Sustainability Manager, presented proposals from the SEEDS (Sustainability, Equity, Economic, and Strategic Development) Office, including $340,000 for a pilot weatherization grant program; $75,000 per year for four years for Strike Out Hunger, a household assistance food program; $125,000 per year to Working Food for two years for food system workforce development; $2.5 million for a meat processing facility; and $750,000 for a pilot Fresh Food Pathways program. 

Riley said the project goal for the weatherization program is “reducing energy insecurity in Alachua County” and added, “We’re hoping to promote affordable housing and at the same time build climate resiliency and energy independence.” Up to $15,000 per rental unit will be available to eligible residents; individuals who live in the City of Gainesville will not be eligible because the City has funding for a similar program. The pilot program’s goal is to provide energy efficiency improvements for at least 15 units. A contract with Rebuilding Together North Florida and the Community Weatherization Coalition to start the program was on the agenda for the meeting. 

Alford said, “This was my baby, and I’m so happy to see it up here. It’s made my whole day.” She made a motion to accept staff’s recommendation (approve the pilot work plan, budget amendment, and ranking, and approve the two contracts), and the motion passed unanimously.

Food System Equity Projects

The next presentation, from Strategic Initiatives Manager Sean McLendon, covered the Food System Equity Projects. The $300,000 in funding for Strike Out Hunger has goals of “diversifying healthy, local food options”; supporting local farmers from “marginalized communities”; and encouraging “personal long-term food security.” The program is projected to impact 2,700 people. The people who receive aid will be added to a database that will be used in future programs. 

Commissioner Alford asked McLendon if he had considered adding the “Plant of the Month” program that she had initiated when she was previously on the board and “distributing seeds, possibly, or plants where appropriate.” McLendon responded that they would “like to consider having garden seeds for culturally appropriate crops to be included in these giveaway baskets.” Alford replied, “A big part of the Plant of the Month is to consider diversity, the appropriateness of the food, how easy it is to grow, all these things.”

Working Food

The next presentation was about a grant to Working Food, a community kitchen space, for an “expansion of high-quality vocational opportunities within the local food system and vocational work in these areas, such as custom meat processing and culinary arts, representing a unique opportunity for youth in our community.” The agreement with Working Food is projected to come back to the board in January. 

Meat processing facility

McLendon then talked about a meat processing facility that staff has been working on for several years; Prizzia said she was the one who originally proposed the project.

McLendon said benefits of the facility would include the ability to process materials more locally and take animals that are raised here and put them into the food system. “This is a big investment in something that is very much necessary for preserving the small local ranchers that are really the vanguard of the developable areas within the municipal boundaries of our community. This helps them stay productive. It helps us to generate new workforce opportunities, and it brings locally sourced meat into the community here.”

The projected cost of the facility is about $5.25 million, which will come from $2.5 million in ARPA funds, $2.48 million from the State, and $275,000 in private funds. A site has been identified in Newberry for what McLendon described as “somewhere in the order of small-to-very-small niche meat marketing that could be that pressure relief for our very small ranchers in this community.” He said the facility will not service large cattle operations and will not have a “giant feedlot.” The facility will be next to Newberry’s expanded wastewater treatment facility, which McLendon said would treat the effluent from the meat processing plant.

McLendon said the facility will provide training for jobs such as meat cutters: “This is high-skill, high-value labor we have an opportunity to develop.” The facility is projected to be operational in 2026.

Prizzia said this is an opportunity “to relocalize that process, to continue to support our small ranchers, to protect our rural areas and the character of our community, to help them get more of the dollars back into their pockets directly… And so for me, this is a sustainability project… It’s touching justice for our rural communities and equity and also touching land stewardship and protecting the rural character of our community.” She added that they’re planning to do research that will give Alachua County the opportunity to “showcase how we can transform, really, the meat industry from something that’s a highly concentrated industrial system to a regional and local resilient system.”

Cornell made a motion to approve the preliminary work plan (he emphasized that it was “preliminary”), direct staff to proceed with the preliminary work plan, submit the project for a state legislative request as a joint project with the City of Newberry, pursue USDA grants with the federal congressional delegation, and bring back a status update after the state legislative session in May. 

During public comment on the motion, several people criticized the plan because they said meat is unhealthy and unsustainable; they also criticized the board for moving on this quickly when it hasn’t been discussed publicly. 

Prizzia responded that the project was discussed in a “public meeting of the Farm Bureau and Cattleman’s Association… We did a survey of local ranchers that was sent out to all the local ranchers. We had contact information through our Extension Service, and we did make a motion that this be included in the possible funding stream for our Local Food Resilience component. This was all done with a decision made on the dais.”

Alford asked to add “broader community conversations” about the meat processing plant to the motion, but she was persuaded to add it to the community engagement included in the next agenda item, instead.

The motion passed unanimously.

Mobile produce market

The final allocation was $750,000 for a “Community Fresh Food Pathways Pilot,” or a 2-year pilot project for a mobile produce market, with the goal of creating relationships between producers and consumers. 

Cornell said, “This isn’t a food truck; it’s a mobile market.” Alford made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation, which was to approve the proposed work plan and the associated budget amendment, direct staff to bring back any subrecipient agreements or subcontracts, provide a list of County community pathways, identify community organizations that may be a good partner, report back to the board on the first round of community engagement and neighborhood meetings, and direct staff to come back to the board with recommendations for expansion and a sustained funding plan beyond the pilot, which is projected to go through September 23. Cornell also added Alford’s previous request to get community feedback on the meat processing plant to the motion. 

Alford asked about plans to serve the outlying communities, and the presenter, Dr. Diedre Houchen, said they hoped to have not only a route in east Gainesville, but also a rural route. She added, “Particularly now that we have the Language Access and Immigrant Liaison Specialist position, that person is going to help us understand some of our immigrant communities who live in rural areas, as well as some of our farm working communities.”

Pointing to the picture of the van she had visited in another community, she said, “In addition to [the van] being visually appealing, what you’re hearing when you see that is culturally relevant music, loud. So hip-hop is booming and bass is booming out of the van, but the foods that are on the van, because it’s mobile and we have a lot of flexibility, we can buy from small producers… We can also pick up from farmers… Not only is it culturally specific, but it reinserts a lot of food that would be lost in the local food system that for years, we’ve gleaned… We go glean that food and give it away. Now we have a way to make a social entrepreneurship effort out of that and really continue to build a local food system.”

The motion passed unanimously.

In closing, Crosby said the County had received a grant that might free up $2 million that had previously been allocated for affordable housing. That added to the previous $2.6 million that was unallocated, for a total of $4.6 million remaining. $3.5 million of that is focused on housing, and $1.1 million is focused on public health.

Commission comment: equity in pavement management and environmental justice in the Comprehensive Plan

During commission comment, Cornell asked the County Attorney to write a memo on the ways the County Charter can be amended, specifically for the purpose of reversing the recent vote on single-member districts. That part of the meeting is covered here. 

Cornell also asked staff to put evaluation criteria for the pavement management system on an upcoming policy meeting. He said “a lot of folks… want to make sure that we are getting equity with regard to funds being spent. I said, we probably need to look at the criteria used to determine how these projects are going to be prioritized.” Cornell asked staff to put that item on a policy meeting agenda so they “understand what the inputs are going into the pavement management system so we can qualify there’s an equity lens being applied.” The pavement management system is used to prioritize paving projects. 

Chestnut said he wanted the board to discuss performing maintenance on privately-owned roads, too: “They’re taxpayers, too. We say we can’t do anything because it’s a private road. That disturbs me when we talk about equity. We have to find a system that addresses their needs, too.”

Cornell, however, said he was focused on “public infrastructure before we get to private roads.” Prizzia said those were two different issues but expressed interest in addressing “issues where possibly private roads were private because maybe there was no public interest in them being public roads because we were disinvesting in certain communities, sort of the history of why certain roads are private, and if we have an obligation to somehow support the infrastructure for those private roads.”

Cornell said he thinks the County has an obligation to maintain the roads “from the standpoint of public health and safety and getting ambulances and public vehicles there when we need to.”

Alford asked staff to review other counties’ environmental justice policies and make recommendations on strengthening Alachua County’s policies because “our environmental justice policies are fairly weak compared to some other communities.” After further discussion, Alford learned that the same motion had been made “many moons ago” and that they were waiting on staff to update the environmental justice policies in the Comprehensive Plan.

Alford also asked staff to bring back information on what it would take to construct a “community calendar” with a notification system that would include “all the different meetings that the County is involved with.”

  • whole wishlist of left wing garbage while are roads continue to deteriorate. let the tax payers eat cake.

  • Let the wokeness begin!

    This bunch of far left hypocrites hide their bigotry behind government handouts.

    Prizzia needs to realize she and Cornell need to get out of their vehicles and get into the neighborhoods in order to start “addressing the root causes of the problems we see in our community.” She thinks she’ll feel better if she can try to convince people she isn’t a benefactor of white privilege.

    Mini-Trump…I mean Cornell, still wanting to further waste county resources in an effort to overturn the recent passage of single member districts by a majority of voters. Let’s hope the Governor gets involved and removes him from office. All Cornhole wants is his free ride at taxpayers’ expense.

    I have a message for the other Chest Nut, I’ll probably need something repaired on my private property soon, think about that. My guess is the brief intro to providing maintenance to a private road is to benefit the commissioners who live on their plantations with private entrances.

    You liberal voters… you’re so gullible.

      • Last I heard Cornell is not a girl but he may choose to declare himself non-binary in keeping his wokeness. As far as the comparison, he and Trump both want to overturn something that was decided by a majority vote. They also pander to the peasants when it is a benefit to them. Hope that helps.

  • The Newberry commercial industrial slaughterhouse will process 25 cows per day. The claim “the facility will not service large cattle operations” is a lie. All the small farms in the area cannot supply 25 cows per day to run this place. Only the large farms will benefit. The plant will cost about $1.5 million a year to operate and will need to run at high capacity to be economical. The cattle owners will retain ownership of the meat and there is no requirement that any of it be sold inside Alachua County. This slaughterhouse is such a boondoggle. They will generate 5 tons of leftover “parts” per week and will grind it to a paste and get rid of it by “composting” it on site. This place is going to stink. Glad it is in downtown Newberry and not near my house.

  • Alachua County commissioners as well as Gainesville city commissioners are both a major waste of taxpayers money.
    Combine the two bloated governments and clean house.

  • Is she prepping for her golden parachute post-BOCC?
    Recipe ingredients including illegal migrant labor “community IDs” for Working Food? Why can’t she get Native youth to learn a work ethic in our public schools? Run for school board and stop the shoplifting, instead.

  • Mini Kenney has had plenty of time ti improve roads. What idiot would repave Tower Rd and not 4 lane it? What idoit would approve additional developement on NW 98 st and West Newberry Rd without 4 laning 98street and 8Th Avenue. No offense but why does the new clown in charge look like Lucifer when she smiles?

  • The whole mini-coven has been reconvened after many hurdles and difficulties – the three woke witches and their woke warlock. Let the magic begin.

  • County bio: Prizzia “founded and currently oversees the UF/IFAS Field & Fork Program and works as the campus food systems coordinator for the University of Florida.” So she feeds the liberal UF students and does not notice a high percentage are vegetarians who do not approve of spending tax dollars on a slaughterhouse. She is a IFAS lobbyist first and does not represent the people of Alachua County. She loves to wheel and deal in the back room and will be good when she runs for the Legislature.

    • Are you under the impression that IFAS is primarily focused on livestock? I would direct you to the acres of research facilities located off Hull Road at UF, and other similar set-ups at different universities and even community colleges across Florida. They focus on plants mostly, at least in my experience.

      • Ok but who runs the UF Beef Teaching unit, the butcher shop and ranches of UF cattle in our area? Is that part of IFAS too?

        • Probably, but for every scientist with a cow field, I bet there are a lot more with greenhouses and working on plants. Cows take up a lot of space. You call the IFAS extension agent to ask about your plants (not your livestock/animals).

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