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CARES funding could assist renters, homeowners

Tim Croft

The Board of County Commissioners already has submitted a plan to the state to employ Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act funding to help businesses.

A separate pot discussed during Tuesday’s monthly meeting could offer some relief to homeowners and renters.

Among $120 million in CARES Act funding coming to Florida Housing, roughly $175,000 is earmarked for Gulf County.

The dollars are focused on providing rental or mortgage assistance to those impacted by COVID-19, said Joe Paul, the county’s State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) administrator.

Specifically, Administrator Michael Hammond said, those who have lost job, have or do not qualify for unemployment, have incurred health care or child care costs due to unemployment.

The Apalachee Regional Planning Council will administer the program for 8 percent of the overall pie, with ARPC staff in the county twice a week once the money is hand and the process underway.

Commissioners will meet in a special meeting sometime next week to establish a cap and other parameters of the program.

“The sooner we can come up with a plan the sooner we can turn this money around,” Hammond said.

A first order of business will be a cap per recipient.

As Hammond noted, once administrative fees are backed out, there will be a little over $155,000 remaining.

And that will only go so far; commissioners discussed a cap of between $1,000 and $2,000.

“The lower the cap the more people we can help,” Hammond said.

The county has already submitted a plan to the Florida Department of Emergency Management to use CARES Act funding establish a grant program for businesses impacted by the pandemic.

Once approved, under the program the county would provide one-time grants to local businesses, ranging up to $5,000, based on the number of full-time equivalent employees.

The county is also using some CARES Act dollars for a new fully-outfitted ambulance.

Transfer station

The county’s transfer station at Five Points is back in full operation, open 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday.

“It is much different than in recent years in that we are open all day Saturday,” said Mark Cothran, director of Public Works.

Saturday has long been a thorn for the county, commissioners of a mind to offer more convenience “for the working man.”

The transfer station was completely rebuilt using grant dollars after the prior station was taken down by Waste Pro, the county’s previous solid waste service provider.

The county and current provider, BCC, amended their five-year contract to remove BCC from operations of the transfer station and, well, transfer the station to the county.

Battery station

Duke Energy will by the end of the year begin a construction project on two acres of land off Cape San Blas Road to install a battery station.

The 5.5-megawatt station is one of four Duke Energy is installing, at a cost between $10 million and $20 million, around the state.

The goal is to provide additional power during peak times.

“When we have full (usage) out there (in South Gulf) it can cause voltage issues so this will help with that,” said Danny Collins with Duke Energy.

The project, he added, should be completed in the first half of 2021.

He emphasized that the battery station is not a back-up if power went out, but was to be designed to provide additional capacity in South Gulf County during peak months.

Ambulance services

The board voted to send a letter to the Bay County Board of Commissioners requesting that county increase its contributions to Gulf EMS.

The county entered into a contract roughly five years ago to provide ambulance service to Mexico Beach at a cost of $36,000 per year.

That service, Administrator Michael Hammond has stated, now costs the county in the neighborhood of $500,000.

The contract makes sense for both Gulf County and Mexico Beach due to proximity, however, with the county already slated to lose $400,000 in the coming year with EMS under ideal conditions, help from Bay is needed.

Commissioner Ward McDaniel emphasized the county had an “interest in continuing the relationship” and did not want to “spook them” with a huge increase.

“We want (a number) they could be comfortable with and we could be comfortable with,” McDaniel said.

The board approved a request for $150,000 per year from Bay County for ambulance.

“I think that is an extremely fair compromise,” Hammond said.