The Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to expand language access initiatives after a presentation by members of the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative (GINI).
The motion would refer many of GINI’s recommendations to city staff for fiscal analysis before returning to the commission for final approval. Those recommendations included creating a staff liaison position, creating a language line, training staff on the language line, providing multilingual signage in key locations, translating city documents and translating the city’s media messages.
GINI estimated the three-year costs of the entire plan at $949,500.
Gainesville Police Department (GPD) Captain Jamie Kurnick represents the city within GINI and led the presentation.
She said the city has made significant strides in the past four years that has improved the language access environment.
“This has been a great effort in terms of trying to identify things that can better help us provide services within the city to the immigrant community,” Kurnick said.
At GPD, a language line is already established that allows the 911 call center to access interpreters for any language 24/7. Officers also carry language cards in order to identify which language a person speaks and then access an interpreter.
Kurnick also mentioned the city’s communications team that will soon launch a new website available in nine languages.
Commissioner Reina Saco praised the work that had been done in recent years, saying the city is “leaps and bounds” ahead of its position four years ago.
She recommended a phased approach, especially with regard to translating documents, and said the city still needed more uniform data in order to run the project correctly.
“We know we’re going to need Spanish,” Saco said. “That’s a given, and I don’t know why we didn’t do it long before I was born.”
According to Kurnick, the combined communications center used its translation service primarily for Spanish with 886 calls in 2021. Mandarin Chinese took second place with 47.
In her proposal, Saco sets Spanish as the first year goal for translating the most commonly used city documents. She said the city can also set up the language line to aid access for all other languages in that time.
Saco said the person in the city’s liaison position can then assess the community’s needs for document translation in other languages. She said that work will continue as the city’s demographics shift.
The staff member can also assess where multilingual signage is needed and move forward with plans to add it.
Saco also asked to refer the financial component to the charter officers until the next available meeting. She said if staff come up with similar numbers then funding shouldn’t be an issue, but she added that there is a ceiling for how much the city can afford.
“It needs to be something that continues to build and get more and more integrated within our operations every single year, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.
Because the program will stay indefinitely within city government, Poe said he wanted to keep the source of funding open for now.
He said using American Rescue Plan (APRA) funds to get the program started would work, but the city needs to set aside money through its general budget for coming years.
The commission voted unanimously on the motion, sending the exact monetary details for the projects to the charter officers.
The motion also directed staff to contact other government entities for collaboration and to collaborate with the Rural Women’s Health Project to transition its research to the city.