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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Marion County to prioritize most of $70 Million from Biden ‘Rescue’ plan to sewer, water

Marion County will accept $70 Million from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act and hopes to focus the majority of the funds on sewer and water infrastructure projects.

Preliminary plans for the allocation of funds were discussed during the Tuesday, June 1 meeting of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners.

During the discussion, Jeannie Rickman of the county’s Public Services department made staff’s recommendation that the first $35 million be distributed into three different categories: $12 million to replace the county’s lost revenue, $10 million to assist local businesses and nonprofit organizations, and $500,000 towards a broadband feasibility study. Rickman suggested the remaining balances would go towards the county’s water and sewer infrastructure projects.

In defense of using the funds to cover the county’s lost revenue, staff indicated that there were multiple funds across the county that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Many of the accounts decreased in balance and did not accrue as much interest as they would have, according to county staff.

During the discussion, Commissioner Kathy Bryant, who represents District 2, was adamant that she was uncomfortable assigning numbers to any of the categories until county staff and businesses could present their needs.

“I want some plans before I start committing dollars. Bring me some projects and show me what the priorities would be and their costs,” said Bryant. She went on to explain that the money represented a chance for the county to work focus on infrastructure improvements that it wouldn’t otherwise be able to fund.

“We have a real opportunity to catch up on infrastructure projects that we would never have the money to be able to do. We have the opportunity to do a whole lot more work than we would ever be able to do without it costing tax payers,” said Bryant.

County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes expressed his opinion that the vast majority of the money should be used for water and sewer improvements, to which much of the council and staff agreed.

“You could use the whole $70 million for water and sewer and it would not be enough,” said Bouyounes.

Bouyounes indicated that county staff will work on developing a slate of water and sewer projects.

The commission says they will also seek further guidance from the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership and the Community Foundation with regards to spending the $10 million to assist local businesses and nonprofits that experienced hardships as a result of the pandemic.

“Marion County is rebounding wonderfully in so many areas, I don’t know what that need could be, still. They should give us a plan with specifics,” said Bryant of allocating dollars to businesses.

The commission will await further details from staff in the coming months on potential projects to receive the funds. According to the commission, the $70 million received does not have to be committed until 2024 and does not have to be spent until 2026.