Use of federal coronavirus dollars in a lot of places is dictated by the decisions of local officials, and that can create some conflicts when it comes to local priorities. Nassau County decided to open up its Nassau Florida Prosperity Plan to new goals and projects, made possible by millions of dollars in federal funds.
The emphasis by county officials is on spending for the Sheriff’s Office and public safety gear.
None of those projects involve American Beach, the residents of which have struggled to work with authorities to get a long-needed, comprehensive water and sewer conversion.
“I am a property owner at historic American Beach, and I’m sure this Board and county officials remember the challenges our neighborhood had in our attempts to receive (American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA) funding for one of the stipulated uses and priority uses — water and sewer infrastructure,” Pam McCorkle-Buncum said at the latest meeting of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.
“For many of us in this nearly 90-year-old coastal neighborhood, on the National Register of Historic Places, that remains extremely vulnerable to storm surge, the use of ARPA funding for the Prosperity Plan priority projects was a reminder of how political this process became.”
Groundbreaking for the water and sewer project occurred in late August. The community is still on the hook for some of the $12 million allocated through other funding means, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Commissioners voted to add nine projects to the Prosperity Plan: $4.5 million for the Crawford Diamond Industrial Park water plant; more than $2.28 million for public safety radio replacement; more than $1.6 million for public safety radio system upgrades; $1.25 million for the Animal Care and Control campus; $500,000 for the public safety training facility; and $150,000 for a broadband local planning team.
There’s also $2 million each for remediation of the old Sheriff’s Office administrative campus, the 4th Street property reinvention and the Westside Regional Park amphitheater.
“A prosperity plan cannot and will not be successful until underserved communities are rescued from years of unequal treatment, and equity becomes a realistic priority for this plan,” McCorkle-Buncum said. “We asked for a fraction of the $17.2 million of ARPA funding for our water and sewer project, and we received zero.”
Commissioners heard presentations from the County Manager’s Office, consultants at Guidehouse, and the public on Oct. 10, and decided to add the projects they did to the Prosperity Plan.
“The general premise was this was a strategic investment in our collective future,” County Manager Taco Pope said at the Oct. 10 ARPA workshop. Commissioner Aaron Bell mentioned, following Pope’s presentation, there were way more requests for funds than the county could possibly meet under the ARPA framework.
“We did get $55 million of projects, and all of those projects, I would say, were worthy when I looked at the list,” Bell said. “Trying to distill that, there’s only finite resources. I think that they’ve done a good job of both investing in the needs of today, and investing in the growth of tomorrow.”
After McCorkle-Buncum spoke, Commissioners unanimously approved the plan without further comment.