Gainesville initiates conflict resolution with Alachua in funding dispute

A dispute over a $1.6 million GRUCom bill for a communication system used by Gainesville and Alachua County has triggered another conflict over the release of federal COVID-19 funds.

The Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a resolution to enter a negotiation process with the county over the distribution of approximately $2.6 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The city views the conflict over the GRUCom bill, which included the county’s share of a 2018 communication system upgrade for the emergency and staff communication system, as separate from the federal pandemic-relief money.

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The federal CARES Act funds were distributed to Florida, which then sent shares of that money to the counties to be used for pandemic-related needs. Alachua County’s share was $46.9 million. The money was spent on assistance to individuals, businesses and non-profits in the county as well as used to fund governmental activities related to the pandemic, according to the Alachua County CARES Act plan summary.

At the end of the CARES Act distribution, Alachua County earmarked approximately $11 million for public safety, including normal operations costs for police and fire departments, and asked agencies within the county to submit requests based on their eligible costs.

The county initially agreed that $2.6 million would be Gainesville’s share of the remaining funds, City Manager Lee Feldman told commissioners Thursday during their regular meeting.

However, the county decided at its Jan. 26 meeting to put Gainesville’s portion into its reserve funds until the county and city resolve their conflict over the unpaid GRUCom bill.

“We, the administration, do not believe that the distribution of CARES fund should in any way be tied to the trunk radio system,” Feldman said. “These are federal dollars that have passed through several levels to the city to cover our costs related to COVID.”

The resolution authorizes the city to send a letter to the county and begin the conflict resolution process.

“It is disappointing that it comes to this, but I will remind everyone that we have been to similar places before with the county commission, and it works out,” said District 2 Commissioner Harvey Ward. “Ninety-eight percent of everything we do with the county works out just fine. Every once in a while there will be sand in the gears, and this is one of those times.”

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