BOCC: City of Newberry won’t get CARES Act funds if they ignore county order

Alachua County has access to up to $46.9 million in CARES Act funds, but municipalities and businesses that are not following the current emergency order will not receive a cut.

The Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted 5-0 on July 14th that the CARES Act funds earmarked to give relief of expenses incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be distributed only to those who enforce Emergency Order 2020-30. 

The order includes a face covering mandate that has been argued by some citizens and ignored by some businesses in Alachua County.

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The City of Newberry disagreed with the County’s added restrictions to municipalities beyond the State’s Emergency Order and voted during an emergency meeting on May 20th to draft a mirror Emergency Order that falls in line with the Florida governor’s order. 

The Newberry Emergency Order, which went into effect on May 21st, does not include a face mask mandate. According to City Attorney Scott Walker, Newberry’s Emergency Order doesn’t mean a citizen is excused from non-compliance.

A majority of businesses in Newberry including restaurants have not made wearing face masks a requirement but a recommendation. Mainstreet Daily News visited gas stations, fast food and sit down restaurants, plus retail and the local grocery store to verify code violation claims being submitted formally to Alachua County and on social media forums.

According to the County Emergency Order, face coverings are to be worn inside businesses and store owners are responsible for providing and enforcing employee use of PPE including face masks.

“Persons working in or visiting grocery stores, restaurants, in-store retail establishments, pharmacies, construction sites, public transit vehicles, vehicles for hire, along with locations where social distancing measures are not possible shall appropriately wear facial coverings as defined by the CDC, in a manner which covers the mouth and orifices of the nose,” the order reads.

The penalty for ignoring the County face mask mandate is: first offense citation fine is $125, second offense is $250 and third offense is $500.

Up until the last week in June, the County’s code enforcement of the mask rule was educational and came in the form of a phone call or visit. But on June 26th Gainesville code enforcement officers started visiting businesses receiving the most complaints of non-compliance.

As of July 14th, code enforcement reported to the BOCC that no citations have been issued, but teams did hand out masks to people entering various businesses that they monitored and only a few did not comply.

As of July 1st all businesses in Alachua County were required to post an 11 x 17-inch sign that states “Facial Coverings Required” and explains the use of face coverings and social distancing in closed spaces.

Commissioner Ken Cornell suggested that companies not following the County order should not receive grants and the rest of the BOCC agreed.

BOCC Chair Robert Hutchinson said, “Since some cities are not following the orders, they don’t get funds. But he did say that individuals and business owners following the County order are welcome to apply for CARES Act funds.

Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby said he expects applications for the CARES Act funds will be available starting August 4th. 

“We are trying to be careful of what info we request (on the applications),” Crosby said. “Because it will be public record.”

Crosby asked the BOCC for clarification on who will not be allowed to receive CARES Act funds.

“If a citizen in Newberry complies,” they can apply he asked? 

“But the City does not get their municipal share?”

“Yes,” several members of the BOCC responded. 

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