City OKs $6.1 million in COVID-19 relief spending

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Posted August 11, 2021 | By Carlos Medina,

[Meagan Gumpert]

The Ocala City Council unanimously approved a plan to spend more than $6.1 million in COVID-19 relief from the federal government.

The money – received on June 1 – is half of the approximately $12.2 million the city is getting as part of the American Rescue Act. The act was approved in March by President Joe Biden.

The city will receive the second half of the money in June 2022.

As part of the plan, the council approved portions of the money for water projects, replacing lost city revenue and helping local non-profit organizations.

About 10%, or $600,000, will go to the Ocala Marion County Community Foundation to be distributed to local non-profit agencies.

Just more than $2 million will replace lost city revenue caused by the pandemic in 2020.

The rest, nearly $4.85 million, will help replace a water main and other water and sewer work.

Several non-profit agencies spoke at the Aug. 3 city council meeting, urging the councilmen to vote for the plan.

“We’re seeing massive, massive numbers of depression and anxiety, and we want to be able to help those people,” said Joyce Urban, who runs a counseling organization.

Rick Hensley, who spoke for the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center, said the money could help the center continue COVID-19 testing and vaccination, as well as expand other services.

“We’re hoping that this transition of funds will help expand those services so we can go deeper into the Tucker Hill community. We know we’re just scratching the surface,” he said.

The clinic provides health care and health education and is located at 819 NW Seventh St.

The council eventually voted 5-0 to approve the spending plan as submitted.

“The timing of this couldn’t come at a more appropriate time given the increased rate of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations we are seeing in our state and community,” said Thomas Harrington of the community foundation.

The city and foundation will establish an application process for those interested in receiving some of the money and will announce when applications will open, according to the foundation.

The $4.48 million for water projects will pay for two specific jobs.

The largest portion of the money, more than $3.5 million, will help replace an 18-inch water main along Southeast 17th Street from Pine Avenue to Southeast 25th Avenue.

Another more than $1.3 million will help pay for water and sewer utilities, including a new lift station on Northeast 35th Street from Old Anthony Road to Northeast Jacksonville Road.

The money can only be spent on five categories:

  • To support public health expenditures.
  • To address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency.
  • To replace lost public sector revenue.
  • To provide premium pay for essential workers.

To invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Marion County is set to receive $71 million under the relief act. They also received half or about $35 million on June 1.

During a June meeting, county staff suggested the commission consider a plan that would spend the bulk of the money, upwards of $49 million, on water and sewer infrastructure projects, followed by $12 million to replace the county’s lost revenue and another $10 million to assist local businesses and non-for-profit organization.

But commissioners preferred keeping dollar amounts out of the recommendation and instead directed county administration to bring back specific projects and their associated costs.

The plan is pending review. The county must submit a preliminary spending plan to the federal government by Aug. 31.


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