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Sarasota Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 1 month ago

County to decide how to spend relief funds

The county has been approved to receive $18.9 million to assist with COVID-19 impacts, though it could receive up to $75.7 million.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

As Sarasota County is positioned to receive as much as $75.7 million in coronavirus relief, county leaders are assessing how best to distribute the funds. 

The county has been approved to receive $18.9 million to assist with impacts of COVID-19 from March through December. The county has received 25%, or about $4.7 million, of those funds to date, and is still waiting to hear from the state when it will receive the remaining 75%.

Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said the county commission now has to decide how to split those funds, which it will do in a special meeting Aug. 19. 

In a July meeting, commissioners approved four categories for divvying up funds: economic recovery for businesses, food shelter and water for individuals, health and medical support for providers, and safety and security to support response and recovery. 

Commissioners had several early thoughts for who would need the money the most. Christian Ziegler said businesses that were forced to shut down in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order should top the list while Nancy Detert  mentioned organizations such as All Faiths Food Bank and First Step of Sarasota as potential recipients. 

Since July, Collins said county staff has met with community partners and surveyed members of the public to get a feel for where the county’s dollars would be best served. 

“Obviously there’s been an impact on most places from COVID-19, but how has it affected them and what programs would be most beneficial for individuals in our community, as well as our business community so that they can get back up and running safely after COVID-19 begins to lessen,” Collins said.  

In addition to surveys, Collins said county staff is learning from larger Florida counties that received funding first.

The coronavirus relief bill totaled about $150 billion and of that, Florida received about $8.3 billion. State leaders initially distributed funds to cities and counties with populations above 500,000 people, so county staff are looking to places like Orange County and Hillsborough County to see what worked for them. 

“We’re doing research on what’s gone well, what did the counties learn, so that as we implement funding, we can hit the ground running quicker as we’ve learned from what others have already started to do,” Collins said.  

The money can be used for expenses incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30 2020, though it cannot be used to replace lost revenue or construction projects unrelated to COVID-19 response. 

In addition to individuals, nonprofits and private businesses, cities and constitutional officers, such as the sheriff and Clerk of the Circuit Court, are eligible for funds. 

Already, Collins said county staff has identified $4.4 million in expenses for which the county can be reimbursed. For example, the county has paid for three rapid-response  vehicles to handle COVID-19 medical calls, many sanitation efforts throughout the county and temporary staff.

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