Ben Howort talks with participants at an ARP feedback session

Ben Howort talks with participants at an ARP feedback session Tuesday night. 

The Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) on Wednesday wrapped up the last of four community feedback sessions about how Gainesville should spend its $32 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

On Friday, the OEI will receive modified proposals from commissioners and other parties who have already turned in a first draft of spending projects.

The OEI will reevaluate the updated proposals with its Equity COVID Budget Tool before publishing the proposals, with an equity rating, on July 8. The revised proposals and community feedback will then be given to the commission on July 15. All of the current proposals are available online for the public to peruse.

The budget tool is a series of questions designed “to integrate explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions addressing programs used to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on the Gainesville Community.” Based on the answers, the OEI will give a rating of incomplete, does not advance equity, good, better or best.

The tool includes questions like these:

  • In a few sentences, explain what disparity this program seeks to alleviate and what population will benefit most from this program. Be specific about race, gender, ethnicity, geography, income.
  • Identify what populations will be burdened by this program and how the program is designed to mitigate unintended consequences.
  • Show data to demonstrate existing disparities and impact of COVID on the population identified, including local data if possible.
  • How will the success of the program be measured? Be specific and explain how data will be collected and disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, income, and geography.

The city commission will discuss the American Rescue Plan funds on July 15 at the city commission meeting, but it has not made any decisions yet.

Ben Howort, equity specialist at the OEI, said the proposals are currently aspirational and not fleshed out in detail. That will come after the July 15 meeting. But, commissioners might not allocate the money that day. They could decide to go back to the drawing board.

The city must use the funds by the federal government’s expiration deadline of Dec. 31, 2024, giving officials a lengthy runway to make decisions.

At the Tuesday evening feedback session—the only one to take place in person—OEI personnel walked through the timeline for where the American Rescue Plan proposals would go from the current stage, making it clear that the city commission holds the final authority.

Community members then read the planned proposals and talked about what they liked or disliked about them. The OEI compiled this feedback to give the commissioners, but also encouraged attendance at the actual commissioners meeting.

“It’s one thing for them to read it on paper and another thing for them to hear it directly from community members,” Howort said.

Only three members of the public showed up to the in-person meeting, prompting questions about how informed the community was and whether citizens knew the sessions were happening.

On June 23 the City of Gainesville sent out an email with information on the sessions, which was also posted to its social media accounts.

Howort said the topic of greater community awareness and input had been discussed in other feedback sessions as well and would be included in the summary presented to the commission.

Rossana Passaniti, Gainesville’s public information officer, said 41 people attended the feedback sessions out of 100 RSVPs.

Commissioners and the mayor submitted their proposals independently, and some of the proposals were duplicates. Below are four proposals that had at least one other proposal submitted addressing the same issue.

  • Energy Efficiency Updates

    • This program would allow for grants to rental homes and homesteads to improve energy and water systems in the homes. The program/grant would require a contract stipulating the property will not be sold or rent raised for a number of years. This will improve the utility costs and safety of homes.

    • Submitted by Commissioner Saco

    • Cost: $3 million

  • Non-Profit Assistance

    • Grants to non-profits that serve underserved and marginalized communities. 

    • Submitted by Commissioner Johnson

    • Cost: $2 million

  • Community Resource Paramedics

    • This existing city program identifies our neighbors who make frequent use of our 911 system and develops a health plan to address each person’s specific needs. 

    • Submitted by Mayor Poe

    • Cost: $2 million

  • Utility Debt Forgiveness

    • Pay off all outstanding balances of all GRU customers in GNV on payment plans.

    • Submitted by Mayor Poe

    • Cost: $2 million

Editor's note: This story has been updated with amended attendance numbers. 

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