City commission allocates slice of ARP funding

The Gainesville City Commission approved a $9.9 million piece of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds at a special meeting on Tuesday, leaving the rest of the funds for a future meeting.

The motion reserves $7 million of the city’s $32 million in ARP funds to fund grants for local nonprofits and $2.9 million for eviction assistance, low-income housing assistance and home energy upgrades.

Both Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and Reina Saco dissented, making the vote 4-2 as the commission will lack a seventh member until after the Nov. 16 special election.

The motion also directed staff to investigate a way to finance language access―translating city resources and information into various languages―through the ARP funds.

Headed by the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI), city staff will prepare a way for nonprofits to submit proposals that staff and the commissions will decide whether or not to approve.

Some nonprofits have already submitted proposals during previous submission opportunities, but now the process will officially open with specific funds ready for just these organizations.

The proposals will need to align with the approved uses of the ARP money as outlined by the U.S. Treasury Department, and the city will also analyze the proposals based on its own strategic objectives.

Multiple commissioners also expressed the desire to give special consideration to nonprofits with a proven track record.

Commissioner David Arreola, who created the motion seconded by Commissioner Harvey Ward, originally wanted $8 million for nonprofits, and Ward asked for $6 million.

The two settled at $7 million, but Saco objected to allocating so much while the rest of the funds remained unattached to any particular project.

“I think pulling $7 million out without figuring out how it affects the rest is. . .I just can’t do that,” Saco said.

City staff took all proposals submitted by the commission and created a model plan for how all $32 million could be spent funding projects that had support from multiple commissioners.

Under that plan, nonprofits were slated to split only $2 million. A broadband project would garner the largest slice of the funding with $9.6 million.

Zeriah Folston, director of the OEI, opened the meeting and asked the commissioners to settle the nonprofit funding and criteria for submitted projects.

He recommended the commissioners hold another meeting to then discuss the commissioner’s proposed projects, allowing time for the commissioners to select and advocate for the various projects.

But the commissioners split over allocating funding for various projects now versus waiting until more information was available about costs and implementation.

For example, staff allocated $1 million for a gun violence initiative. If the commission approved the amount, staff could then seek the best ways to implement the plan with the selected funding, but no exact numbers or plan has been made yet.

Arreola and Ward wanted more information off the bat.

“I think we need to be a lot more critical about how much money we’re allocating for some of these things before we just put them into pots,” Arreola said. “So I really think that this should be one of the items that we meet regularly to discuss.”

He said one of the best things the ARP funds allow is time to use it. Congress set an expiration date on the money of Dec. 31, 2024.

Mayor Lauren Poe and Hayes-Santos disagreed on waiting.

“I reject the idea that we slow walk this,” Poe said. “We need to get this money authorized and in the hands of either our organization or other organizations to start helping people.”

He said the money helps no one while sitting in a bank account and wanted to see the commission approve funding for more projects besides the grants for nonprofits.

“I agree that we need to make a decision,” Hayes-Santos said. “We need to allocate the buckets where the money is going and approximately how much we’re going to put in there.”

Ward reminded the commissioners that the city really had an additional $2 million to use. The city announced that it would receive the money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing needs.

Other projects in the staff draft include the $9.6 million for broadband, $200,000 for vaccination incentives, $3.3 million for an eastside grocery store and $2.25 million for an eastside urgent clinic―a proposal given to a joint Gainesville City Commission and Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

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