Newberry wants CARES Act funds despite ignoring County face mask rule

 The Alachua County Board COVID-19 Subrecipient Grant Agreement spells it out clearly: Recipient consents to and agrees to “Comply with all Emergency Orders issued by the County related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
 
But the City of Newberry Commission, which opted out of following the County’s Emergency Order that mandates face mask use in closed spaces, said during Monday’s (Aug. 24th) meeting that they hope the BOCC will not follow through with the condition that requires them to be in compliance with the County in order to qualify for those funds.
Since the March shutdown of non-essential businesses and reopening two months later, most businesses in Newberry have not required face mask use and have left wearing them up to the customer throughout the pandemic. 
Even as numbers of COVID-19 cases continued to climb in Newberry, Alachua County and Florida, businesses in Newberry and the city did not mandate face mask wearing even at events that drew dozens or hundreds of people.
The Woodyard Grill continued to host comedy shows and karaoke events, the City went ahead with its annual Watermelon Festival, a Springs County kickoff event with hundreds of attendees was thrown and a graduation ceremony for Newberry High students who shook hands with elected officials, Congressman Ted Yoho and Rep. Chuck Clemons all went on with no face mask requirements. Meanwhile, venues such as the High Dive in Gainesville which also used to host those same comedy shows and music performances have remained closed for 5 months because of the State’s Emergency Order that closed bars.

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At the Aug. 11th BOCC meeting, Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health Paul Myers presented data about the county and commented that, “Newberry is not doing so well,” as he showed a bar chart of the rates of infection per capita (per 1,000 residents).
 
In the chart, Gainesville’s infection rate was 24.99, the City of Alachua was 25.13, High Springs was 15.97 and Newberry was 29.44.
 
“They are up to almost 30 cases per 1,000,” Myers said about the data he gathered to show the BOCC what “some of the disease burden our municipalities are having to suffer.”
As of Aug. 24th, Newberry had 232 cases according to the FDOH. 
Once the County announced that municipalities and businesses not enforcing the County Emergency Order would not be eligible to apply for CARES Act funding, some businesses in Newberry started to post the required signage in their store fronts but that effort did not necessarily mean that face mask use was being enforced. Mainstreet Daily News visited the businesses in Newberry to verify compliance and witnessed most restaurant employees handling and serving food without face masks and retail businesses not enforcing the use of face covering for staff or customers. 
Newberry Commissioners said on Monday that they were heralded by the community for denying the County’s order, but they briefly considered adopting it so that they would be in compliance before they submitted the application for the $103,400 in funds to offset the costs incurred from dealing with the pandemic.
According to the application with maximum figures set by the County, the following would be considered qualified expenses to be reimbursed by the CARES Act: 
(a) $20,172 for personal protective equipment (PPE) & medical supplies. 
(b) $4,674 for disinfecting public areas and facilities. 
(c) $5,000 for quarantining health and public safety personnel. 
(d) $4,674 for preparing public buildings for customers. 
(e) $22,632 for local share of FEMA awards – payroll only. 
(f) $11,316 for local share of FEMA awards – nonpayroll only. 
(g) $12,300 for public ordinance enforcement. 
(h) $0 for homeless care.
 (i) $10,332 for equipping public employees to telework. 
(j) $12,300 for food delivery to residents.
It was recently re-elected Commissioner Marty Farnsworth who suggested the City adopt the County’s emergency order so that they would be in compliance when the application was submitted, but Mayor Jordan Marlowe was against that idea and said, “It is my belief that (the County’s) position has softened.”
Commissioner Ricky Coleman agreed with Marlowe and wanted the City to submit the application and “See what happens.”
City Manager Mike New reminded the Commission that the proposed agreement for the commission to consider “entitles us to make the application, but stipulates that we abide.”
Farnsworth then said, “If we sign this and send it to the County and they refuse to pay us, then we start a lawsuit.” Then he asked, “I wonder what the benefit is of fighting against the county?”
Marlowe then encouraged the Commission to make the application, but state that the City is staying with the governor’s order that does not require face masks.
Commissioner Paul Norfleet said, “If we go back and bow down and accept the guidelines, it makes us wishy washy. Stick with the State.”
City Manager Mike New then suggested returning the document and putting an asterisk and noting that the exception would be that the City was following the State order, not the County’s.
Marlowe said that by doing so it would be up to the BOCC to accept or reject the grant application.
City Attorney Scott Walker said, “I think your application is not going to be successful.”
The BOCC meets on Aug. 25th at 11:30 a.m. and on the agenda is the approval of the subrecipient agreements that would authorize BOCC Chair to sign final documents approved by the County Manager and County Attorney’s office.

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