HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs is considering projects that could be addressed using approximately $3 million in funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Last May the City received approximately half of the ARPA funds allocated to High Springs. The second half of the allocation is expected to be received in May 2022.
ARPA funds were established to provide money to bolster the response to the COVID-19 emergency and economic impacts, help governments meet their present needs and build the foundation for a strong recovery.
Although the topic has been raised during the last two City Commission meetings, no action has been taken to whittle down the long list of projects that could be addressed using these funds.
At the Dec. 9 workshop, City Manager Ashley Stathatos provided Commissioners with the results from the Strategic Planning Sessions from last fiscal year as possible ARPA-funded projects.
Eligible uses include support of public health expenditures – COVID mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare and certain public health and safety staff; address negative economic impacts caused by public health emergency that may include economic harm to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries and the public sector; and to replace lost public sector revenue to bolster government services reduced due to the pandemic.
ARPA funds can also be used to provide premium pay for essential workers to support those bearing the greatest health risks because of their positions.
Another item ARPA funds can be used for is to invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure to expand access.
City departments that may see ARPA funds coming their way include the Police Department, Fire Department, Parks, and Administration.
Discussing the possibility of a Community Services Building, Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham mentioned that the City currently doesn’t have any buildings that can be used as an official shelter or an emergency operations center. Neither the Civic Center nor Catherine Taylor Park’s building would meet the requirements and they also do not meet the requirements to house quarantined essential workers. Had a building been available that met ADA requirements, American Red Cross and social distancing requirements, it might have been able to be used as a testing site or a temporary medical center.
In addition, Gillingham said the City is using a dish to communicate between buildings. But there is currently no fiber-optic inner connectivity between buildings, which is something that could be a problem in a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Gillingham also said the Community School only has one building, the Science Building, which can be used as a shelter. Other than that, Santa Fe High School is the next closest location. He also pointed out that if the County opens a shelter at the school, the High Springs Fire and Police Departments have to staff it.
Water infrastructure projects could include building or upgrading facilities, transmission, distribution and storage systems, including the replacement of lead service lines.
Projects suggested by staff include engineering for a new water plant, water main upgrades/replacements, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system replacement and upgrade and additional software.
Possible projects suggested by staff include engineering for sewer plant expansion Phase 3, generators for lift stations, spare pumps for lift stations, SCADA system replacement and upgrade and additional software.
Investing in broadband infrastructure could include providing the service to areas that are currently unserved or underserved or are lacking a wire line connection that reliably delivers minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
Possible projects recommended by staff are to provide broadband in city parks, downtown and Wi-Fi in parks.
The possible blending of funds between High Springs and Alachua County to leverage their funds with the city’s funds was raised by Commissioner Ross Ambrose. Stathatos said she would address that issue with the County in the next week.
The topic of body cameras for the police department was raised with High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard saying that the City will eventually have to make that investment. “I think we are the last agency in the county without body cams,” he said. “One day it will be mandatory through state legislation.”
Sheppard said the City of Alachua purchased Panasonic body cams, which he thought cost about $30,000 - $40,000. He said he would be interested to see how they perform. “Originally, we were looking at Exxon, which cost around $100,000 over five years.”
Further discussion included maintenance equipment for the gravity system, funding fewer projects, but funding them completely and monitoring possibilities for the wastewater and water systems.
Stathatos said she would send out a list to the Commissioners and add the items that were discussed during the workshop so they could determine the importance of each item. Once the top five items are determined, staff will research costs and considerations and present a plan to the Commission.
The City must obligate funds to the various chosen projects by Dec. 31, 2024, and expend those funds by Dec. 31, 2026. Any unexpended funds will go back to the government after that date. In addition, local governments are required to provide periodic reports along with a detailed accounting of how the funds are used.
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