Jax Officials Find Millions More In CARES Act Money; Debate Begins On How To Spend It

Jun 23, 2020

Initially, Jacksonville city officials thought they received $159 million in Federal CARES Act funding. 

But after the city’s finance department checked with the U.S. Treasury Department, officials  realized the city actually got $167 million. 

Now, City Council members are trying to figure out what will be done with that additional $8 million. 

Councilman Matt Carlucci introduced a bill alongside Mayor Lenny Curry's administration to put the money back in Jacksonville’s general fund. 

He said it would cover most of the money spent on the Small Business Grant Program, which provided relief to businesses in need of help with rent, utility bills, and more. 

“Before we spend any of this $8 million, I'd like to put it back in the bank and hit the pause button so that we can take a good look at the budget and as we go into budget hearings, know that the dollars are there,” Carlucci said. 

A new budget will be proposed by Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration after a two week City Council hiatus that begins in July. At the same time, Carlucci will be taking over as Finance Committee Chair.

Other City Council members suggested using the extra money now, rather than putting it back in the general fund. 

Councilman Ron Salem said the city is dealing with a rising number of drug overdoses, as well as a mental health crisis. 

“I personally plan to do some research over the break and try to determine what might be an effective way that we could address those two issues and maybe come back at the end of July and take a stab at using some of that money for those reasons,” Salem said. 

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Joyce Morgan introduced a bill that would put $1 million in additional aid toward the Senior and Disabled Financial Assistance Program, and another $2 million toward the Small Business Grant Program. The other $5 million would go to the general fund. 

“I'm not looking to spend every bit of the $8 million, but I am looking to augment those two segments that are already providing,” Morgan said.

Councilmen Sam Newby and Garrett Dennis said they don’t want to see that money go into the general fund, but rather be spent on helping people who are in crisis right now. 

Dennis introduced a bill to use $1 million for a grant program directed at businesses that closed down recently due to exposure from COVID-19 and had to spend thousands on cleaning fees. 

“I was riding through San Marco - all the businesses were closed and I just assumed for cleaning,” Dennis said. “I know also it was either this week or last week... several businesses at Five Points were closed for cleaning.” 

Dennis also questioned if putting money back into the general fund could result in it not being used for relief.

According to City Auditor Kim Taylor, the $8 million is currently in the city’s bank account. As it currently stands, the money has some restrictions on it due to it coming from the CARES Act, and it can only be spent in certain ways. However, once the money is used to cover most of the Small Business Relief Program and it’s back in the general fund, it’s fair game to be used for anything. 

“I'm not in favor of putting it in the general fund to be spent, however, quite frankly, I don't know that we can do that,” Dennis said. “I don't support putting it in reserves, because then, as we've seen, I pointed out in the last committee meeting where we spent $15 million dollars out of our savings account since March out of the reserves for things that did not support the average citizen here in Jacksonville.”

Morgan’s and Dennis’ bills are being introduced as emergencies for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, but at the morning public meeting, they agreed that it would be best to hold on to the money where it currently sits until they return from their break in July. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.