The Gainesville City Commission on Monday approved a $3.2 million coronavirus emergency relief package and discussed when and how to reopen the city government.
The relief money is to be spent evenly between local small businesses and households whose income has been affected by the spread of COVID-19.
“As I’ve written before, it isn’t perfect by any means,” City Commissioner Harvey Ward posted on Facebook after the commission held an emergency teleconference meeting. “But it gets some relief funding going. It won’t be the last relief-funding program we consider. I’m proud that we were able to get a package on the table, and far before most other Florida cities.”
City officials were still determining how residents and small businesses would be eligible for and how to apply for the relief funding. City Manager Lee Feldman said recipients would not receive the funds directly; it would more likely go toward offsetting rent and or utility bills.
Ward urged that the money be dispensed as soon as possible, and that the commission should approve a second wave of relief funding in another month or two.
“I want to get money into people’s hands” he said. “While we are talking, people are waiting.”
The commission decided to not make businesses, in order to be eligible for the relief funding, demonstrate a strong chance of reopening past COVID-19, be within ZIP codes with high poverty rates or have been open for at least two years.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said helping local retailers suffering because of the pandemic was critical, given that many of them that fail would not reopen.
The commissioners also talked at length about how to go about reopening city departments.
Mayor Lauren Poe and Feldman said any city mandate must align with that set by the Alachua County Commission, with the mayor saying there should be “no daylight” between them.
While discussing the reopening of non-essential health services and local parks, Poe said county residents have complained about city residents not complying with social distancing guidelines.
City commissioners urged that employees and customers wear masks during a gradual reopening of businesses, and said a first phase should be limited to those requiring little physical contact.
“It’s not a ‘throw open the barn door’ situation,” Poe said.
Correction appended: A previous version of this story stated the City Commission will meet again virtually on Thursday. It will not. A Gainesville Charter Review Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.