County defers decision on $71 million spending

The Marion County Commission is shown during meeting in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted August 17, 2021 | By Carlos Medina,

The Marion County Commission is shown during a meeting in Ocala in March  [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The Marion County Commission on Tuesday put off a final decision on how to spend the $71 million in American Rescue Plan Act money it is set to receive.

On June 1, the county received half of the money allocated under the act which was passed in March. The commission must decide where to spend the money.

On Tuesday, a string of community non-profit agencies showed up to the meeting to urge the commission to commit millions for the benefit of local agencies.

The Ocala Marion County Community Foundation sent the county a proposal for $8.4 million which it would administer and disburse.

The Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership is requesting $2.5 million for a COVID Healthcare Incentive Program (CHIP). The money would be used to attract healthcare industry jobs to the area.

County staff, meanwhile, submitted $71 million in projects, mostly water and sewer related.

Commissioners tentatively agreed to fund all but about $7 million of the county’s projects but deferred making an official decision.

They agreed to continue discussing the spending plan during a workshop scheduled for Wednesday.

During a June 1 commission meeting, county staff said the county was required to submit a preliminary spending plan to the federal government by Aug. 31.

At that same meeting, staff also proposed spending 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 organizations.

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

Despite set for more discussion on Wednesday, the commission cannot take official action during a workshop. They indicated it could be October before they again bring the plan up at a commission meeting.

The Community Foundation addressed the issue during its bi-weekly briefing.

“While another two-month postponement is disappointing, particularly for those who need more immediate relief, we will continue fighting to help meet all nonprofits’ immediate COVID-related needs and ask that you do not lose heart in this endeavor,” the statement read.

The $71 million 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.

Under the program, the county has until Dec. 31, 2024, to allocate the money and until Dec. 31, 2026, to complete all work and services.

On Aug. 3, the Ocala City Council approved $600,000 for the foundation from the city’s $6.1 million in American Rescue Plan money.

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