Gainesville finances language access programs

The Gainesville City Commission backed up a March motion on Thursday by approving up to $500,000 to begin a language line for the city, translate city documents into other languages and hire a staff liaison to work on language access and immigrant issues. 

The funding will come from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that can be used for any city projects. City Manager Cynthia Curry said the city has around $2.7 million in ARPA funds left, most of which is unrestricted in use. 

The city hopes to rollover the programs annually, but some commissioners hesitated to approve financing without an exact budget on how much the programs would cost each year.

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“I’m in support of it, but we’re talking about this funding just to go through this year,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said. “I don’t know what next year’s funding is.” 

According to Tony Cunningham, the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) interim general manager, the language line costs the utility around $8,000 a year. 

Gainesville Police Department (GPD) Chief Investigator Jamie Kurnick said the department’s line comes in between $8,000 and $10,000 per year. 

Mayor Lauren Poe also estimated the cost for an additional full-time staff member at $100,000. 

Poe said he’d be willing to cut from other areas to ensure the language access programs and staff liaison continue indefinitely, citing their importance. He also said the city can only control its own functions. Other entities—like the school district, Alachua County government, sheriff’s office—need similar programs, but he said the city can only have discussion and encouragement. 

“We can set an example of ‘look how more inclusive and welcoming our neighbors are with the city because of these efforts and actions that we’ve taken’,” Poe said. 

Commissioner Reina Saco called out the commission for quickly approving other projects while hesitating to approve up to $500,000 for a program that 10 to 15% of the community deserve to have available. 

She said the population who would need the language line or translated documents contribute far more in taxes and services than the requested funds. 

“[If] 15% of the people who work in this city do not have access to this city, and if that’s going to cost up to $500,000, that is the least, the absolute minimum,” Saco said.

 

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