City commission approves fraction of ARP funds

The Gainesville City Commission voted to approve a small portion of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds at its Thursday meeting at the request of Commissioner Reina Saco, but the rest of the funds will be divided at a later date.

The recommendation brought before the committee directed city staff to streamline the current proposals and place them into usage categories based on the U.S. Treasury’s guidelines, let charter officers review and make recommendations for the money, and develop an application process for community partners to submit proposals for the use of ARP funds.

Mayor Lauren Poe also recommended holding a special meeting to discuss ARP funds. A date for that special meeting has not been set.

Staff would bring the above items to the commission for its final decisions, delaying the release of funds until at least that meeting.

“The longer we wait to get money in the hands of people, the worse those folks’ situation is going to be,” Saco said. “I would just urge urgency.”

She pointed out that six of the commissioners had all submitted a proposal dealing with Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) assistance and asked that $250,000 of the ARP funds be used now for the assistance.

“I would humbly but urgently ask my colleagues to just agree to set aside that portion from whatever else the total is to help folks pay off those repayment plans,” Saco said.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos agreed and added the amendment to his motion.

After further discussion, Saco asked for another addition.

“I forgot something; don’t hate me,” she said to her fellow commissioners.

Saco said the utility assistance means nothing if people get evicted.

With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium on evictions overturned by the Supreme Court, she said most evictees lack a legal defense, and most courts hesitate to help evicted renters if they can’t provide the rent that is due.

Saco recommended reserving $500,000 that the city’s partner, Three Rivers, could use to pay off the rent payments so that the court case has a chance.

In August, approximately 700 eviction cases were under review at the county.

Hayes-Santos added the proposed $500,000 to the motion.

Both the $250,000 and $500,000 programs will come back to the commission at a future meeting to hear the final plan and get approval, but the two plans will now be able to roll out earlier than the other proposals.

While current proposals are with the city, the commission voted to allow time for these proposals to be modified and for community members to submit their own ideas.

“The two week period of time was really really fast, Mr. Mayor and city commissioners, and I don’t think that allowed for enough community partners to be able to participate in the process,” said Zeriah Folston, new interim director of the Office of Equity (OEI) and Inclusion who will lead the ARP project.

The two week time period for proposals was in May. After which, the commissioners directed the OEI to run a community engagement process and gain feedback from citizens. The OEI then analyzed the proposals with an COVID-19 Equity Tool and submitted the proposals with a rating to the commission.

Now, the ARP process will reopen for more community engagement and time for revision.

Folston said the application for community partners will be created and presented to the commission before opening up to the public.

“We have not come up with an official application process; I think that we need to be more clear for them so they understand what they’re getting into when they take this money from us,” Folston said.

Another proposal the ARP funds is an east side grocery store, a project that has already been before the commission and is waiting for full approval.

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