County maps plan for spending $52M in rescue funds

Tommy Crosby speaks at Tuesday's county commission meeting.
Tommy Crosby speaks at Tuesday's county commission meeting.

The American Rescue Plan is delivering a $1.9 trillion relief package to help the public, municipalities and businesses recover from the pandemic, and that trickles to Alachua County’s amount of $52 million.

At the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby delivered a broad plan for allocating the funds.

The federal government has specified what local governments can spent the money on, and Crosby explained that road repair is not on that list.

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“Roads are not eligible,” Crosby said. “We are unable to link road impact to COVID.”

In what Crosby deemed as a “living document,” he explained that the county has received the first installment of $26 million and has started the process of tying buckets to treasury guidelines and the priorities itemized in the BOCC’s strategic plan.

Crosby labeled the areas of funding to be established and referred to them as empty buckets waiting to receive fund amounts.

“This is a big scale plan to share ideas,” Crosby said. “The goal is to spend the funds in a way that will help the community in recovery.”

That $52 million must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and be spent by 2026.

In the replacement of public sector revenue loss, Crosby said the county will have a chance to add funds to accounts that lost revenue during the pandemic, such as gas tax, tourist development dollars and lost sales tax.

“Those dollars went away,” Crosby said. “As we are opening back up, we are trying to recapture those.”

The formula from the United States Treasury on revenue loss for Alachua County makes it harder to capture the actual losses, Crosby said. That revenue replacement is set at $15 million.

In the support for public health response category Crosby listed $5 million, which includes behavioral health care for $1.5 million, public health and safety at $2 million (for the proposed UF Health facility on Hawthorne Road), and medical expenses to cover losses for first responders and ambulance equipment modernization needs for $1.5 million.

In the categories addressing negative economic impacts, $10 million will be split between families and small businesses. Crosby tagged $4 million for local food security and building a community food system and $6 million to address housing gaps.

Broadband infrastructure is receiving the biggest slice of funding presented by Crosby. A proposed $15 million will start the bucket with the goal of providing the underserved with new access to the internet and will accelerate progress on infrastructure, Crosby said.

“It opens the door to a whole network system,” Crosby said.

Water infrastructure has been tagged for $1.25 million to improve the Santa Fe Hills neighborhood in the City of Alachua for water supply improvements. In the long run, Crosby said fixing the water system in that neighborhood will reduce the overall cost for Alachua County.

“It would move the county off current maintenance,” he said.

Since Crosby said the plan is flexible and broad, he set aside $6 million in an undesignated category so the BOCC could move it around as needed.

“When we develop a plan it will cover those program needs that are insufficiently covered or future items,” he said.

According to Crosby, Gainesville received its share of the ARP funds directly, but smaller municipalities in the county were required to apply for their share, a process dictated by population.

The BOCC agreed to try to spend the funds on one-time items whenever possible.

“It needs to be one-time expenditures that structurally change our systems,” BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said.

County Manager Michele Lieberman agreed, noting that the bonus revenue from the ARP gives the county a chance to take care of one-time expenses that have no recurring revenue sources.

“We’re not going to see it again,” she said about the ARP funds. She the money would best serve the community when applied to infrastructure such as broadband that the county has talked about for years, but has been unable to fund.

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