Commission discuss cares

Citrus County commissioners discuss the CARES Act grant program Tuesday, Jan. 5. From left: Commissioners Holly Davis, Ron Kitchen Jr.,  Chairman Scott Carnahan, Ruthie Schlabach and Jeff Kinnard.

Things got a little testy during Tuesday’s county commission meeting as officials continued to refine the CARES Act grants program.

Commissioners, who agreed in December to give the chamber of commerce $1 million in federal funds to distribute to businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, revised that by diverting $200,000 back to the county to assist businesses in buying coronavirus protection equipment.

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, however, said the board voted unanimously in December how to divide up the remaining CARES Act funds, only to have a working group led by board Chairman Scott Carnahan change the formula during a phone conference last week.

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“We’re a board of five. When the board makes a vote ... that should not change in a phone call,” Kinnard said.

Carnahan said the working group, which includes the two city managers, decided the county was better suited than the chamber in overseeing the grant program.

“You guys do what you want,” he told commissioners.

Kinnard said Carnahan and the county staff should not have changed the board’s direction.

“We voted unanimously to go down this road, then things started changing outside of board discussion,” he said. “Each one of us should have a problem with that.”

The county in July received its first installment of what would eventually be $11.7 million, or 45% of the amount the county is eligible to receive in CARES funds. Of that, 64% went to help small businesses, which is a higher percentage than area counties, and the remainder went to other COVID-19 related expenses, County Administrator Randy Oliver said.

A contract between the chamber and county will be presented at the board's next meeting, and the chamber will follow with a detailed plan on how the it will disburse the remaining $800,000.

Also at the Tuesday, Jan. 5, meeting, commissioners approved $300,000 of its CARES Act funds for Citrus County Housing Services, which uses the funds to pay utilities, rent and mortgage for residents under financial hardship due to COVID-19. Carnahan said the funding will not affect the $450,000 the county will provide in CARES Act funds to United Way of Citrus County.

Commissioners also said they will develop a process to provide CARES Act grants to nonprofits that provide food, mental health and health care to citizens affected by COVID-19. The board said five nonprofits are eligible without applying: Veterans Coalition of Citrus County, We Care Food Pantry, New Church Without Walls, Blessings and Community Food Bank of Citrus County.

In other business Tuesday, the board: 

• Unanimously appointed Dave Pieklik as economic development director. Pieklik, who held a similar job in Levy County, replaces the retiring Bruce Register.

 • Unanimously backed a resolution asking state legislators to support extension of the Suncoast Parkway through Citrus County to Interstate 10 in Jefferson County. The resolution also asks the state to complete design of the parkway between State Road 44 and County Road 486, with an interchange at C.R. 486.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.