County, city commissions at conference table

The Alachua County and Gainesville commissions met Wednesday to discuss how to use American Rescue Plans funds. 

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe started off the joint meeting between the Gainesville and Alachua County commissions thrilled with "The opportunities that have been presented to us with the American Rescue Plan [ARP] dollars."

"Our community's needs are great," Poe said. "But this also has opened up some doors for us that we were not expecting."

Last week, the City of Gainesville ended its dispute with the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) over the distribution of federal CARES ACT funds.

That opened the door for the two sides to come together to discuss how to spend Gainesville's $32 million and the county's $52 million share of ARP funds. 

The joint meeting was held in person and with face masks optional for the first time in more than a year.

Both commissions shared in a broad sense what they thought the money should be used for to make sure there were no duplicate efforts and nothing fell through the cracks.

According to BOCC Chair Ken Cornell, the county commission has not yet mapped out details on how to spend its share.

"It's an open dialogue," Cornell said.

Both the BOCC and Gainesville City Commission focused on joining forces to possibly work with UF Health on teaming up to build a primary care facility on Hawthorne Road. 

Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman and Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman compared notes, because UF Health was not there to present the concept and both had met separately with UF Health about the idea.

According to Feldman, UF Health has a piece of property on Hawthorne Road, west of the GTEC Incubator facility, on which it would like to build a 10,000 square foot building for primary care. The clinic would also allow for walk-up appointments.

Feldman said UF Health has put together a pro forma financial statement that indicates the clinic will be operating at a loss.

"Because of that they are seeking contribution from the city and the county," Feldman said. 

The cost of the building and equipment is estimated at about $4 million and if the project happens, the county and city would split the price tag 50/50.

Lieberman said she wants to make sure the facility would complement and not compete with the Alachua County Health Department located nearby. She said UF Health representatives assured her that would be the case.

Members of both commissions expressed that they thought the project sounded like a solution to extending healthcare to the eastern part of Gainesville.

"This is something we've been trying to work on in regards to bringing services to where folks need them," Cornell said. "I'm very much in favor."

He said the relief funds present a rare opportunity. 

"When I think of American Rescue Plan money, I think of one time money that can be invested to then change the direction long term," Cornell said. "If UF is committed to operating it, I'm all for American Rescue Plan money, one time, up front helping this happen." 

Both commissions agreed they would need a presentation from UF Health to move forward.

In a statement provided to Mainstreet Daily News, spokesperson Ken Garcia said addressing health inequities in underserved Gainesville communities is a top priority for UF Health. 

"We have been looking at the needs of East Gainesville and have found there is a lack of after-hours and weekend medical care in this area," Garcia said. "In response, we are considering building an Urgent Care Center that would offer walk-up services for patients of all ages seven days a week."

He confirmed UF Health is in "active planning" with both city and county stakeholders and said it would seek additional community input to identify needs. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the city and county amounts of relief funds and to add a quote from UF Health. 

Mainstreet Daily News Reporter

Suzette Cook is a Mainstreet Daily News reporter who has been a community journalist for more than 30 years.

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