An early look at how Pensacola plans to spend $19.1 million in federal COVID relief funds

Jim Little
Pensacola News Journal
  • Local governments will have until the end of 2024 to allocate the money they receive from ARPA and will have until 2026 to spend it.
  • Altogether, Pensacola area municipalities will receive about $125 million, with Escambia County projected to receive $61.7 million.
  • Santa Rosa County will receive about $35.7 million. The city of Milton will get $4.4 million, Gulf Breeze $2.9 million, Century $780,000, and Jay $270,000.

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in March, most people quickly received $1,400 stimulus checks, but the $1.9 trillion package also includes aid for local governments.

The city of Pensacola is one of the first local governments to put out an initial plan for how it plans to spend its $19.1 million allocation under the law commonly referred to as ARPA.

Unlike the previous round of relief money that came through the law known as the CARES Act, there is no real rush to spend this money. Local governments will have until the end of 2024 to allocate the money they receive from ARPA and will have until 2026 to spend it.

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Altogether, Pensacola area municipalities will receive about $125 million, with Escambia County projected to receive $61.7 million. Santa Rosa County will receive about $35.7 million. The city of Milton will get $4.4 million, Gulf Breeze $2.9 million, Century $780,000, and Jay $270,000.

Pensacola Chief Financial Officer Amy Lovoy unveiled the city's preliminary plan Monday for spending its share of the ARPA funds, and the money was broken down into six categories.

The plan is far from final as the City Council will have the final say on each allocation, and the city has yet to receive a penny from the federal government.

Here's the breakdown of the current funding plan:

Recovery of lost revenue — $4.6 million

The primary purpose of giving local governments funds under ARPA was to make governments whole after the economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic which meant local governments lost out on sales tax revenue.  

Lovoy said ARPA requires cities to use a specific formula to justify spending the funds on lost revenue, and for Pensacola, the amount comes to $4.5 million. Here's an early look at how those funds could be broken down:

  • $1.5 million would go into the city's general revenue, which funds most of the city's operations.
  • $533,995 would go into the Community Maritime Park fund, which pays for the upkeep of Community Maritime Park and the Blue Wahoos Stadium.
  • $300,000 could go into the city's parking fund.
  • $786,509 could go into the city's parks and recreation fund.
  • $518,988 could go into the city's local option sales tax fund.
  • $255,488 could go into the city's stormwater maintenance fund.
  • $109,388 could go into the city's local option gasoline tax fund.
  • $600,000 could go into the operations of the city-owned Saenger Theatre.

Lovoy noted that the city also has applied for a COVID-19 relief grant for the Saenger Theatre for $600,000, and if the city wins the grant, it couldn't use the ARPA funds on the theater so the $600,000 would be freed up to spent elsewhere.

Citizen assistance — $5.1 million

ARPA allows for cities to create assistance programs to help people affected by COVID-19 or fund existing programs and initiatives that address a variety of issues like homelessness.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said he wants the city to spend $3 million to address homelessness in the city and suggested the funds could go toward creating a holistic service center to provide services to help people experiencing homelessness.

The city's preliminary plan also states that:

  • $125,000 could be spent on a local vaccination program.
  • $2 million could be spent on housing assistance or affordable housing and could include such things as legal services and counseling to help people find homes.

Details of how these citizens' assistance programs would work are still largely unknown as Robinson is waiting on guidance from the City Council on the plan.

Personnel — $4.4 million

ARPA allows cities to give extra pay to essential workers and first responders, such as police and firefighters. The law limits the extra pay to $13 an hour up to $25,000 per worker. The city's plan includes that:

  • $4.2 million could be spent on premium pay.
  • $200,000 could be spent on incentive pay for city workers who get a vaccine.

Grant Compliance and Administration — $450,000

The city's plan calls for $450,000 of the ARPA funding to be dedicated to the cost to administer the funds and hire more staff to ensure the city is complying with the federal rules around spending the money.

Lovoy said the actual cost could be lower, but for now, she recommends keeping $450,000 set aside to cover the cost.

Facilities — $1.7 million

  • $1 million could be spent to put UV lights and other anti-viral measures in all air conditioning systems in all city buildings.
  • $600,000 could be spent to upgrade the City Council's audio and visual system and renovations to the council chambers.
  • $65,000 could be spent on city phone systems to allow for better virtual interaction, including during public meetings.

"If public input virtually is to become a thing of the future, and it probably will be, then we probably need a better method of allowing virtual citizen input than what we have right now," Lovoy said.

Stormwater and sewer abatement — $2.9 million

The entire $2.9 million would be spent on various stormwater projects in the city that will be decided by the City Council.

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.