Crystal River is thankful for Citrus County sharing leftover federal COVID-19 relief, but city officials aren’t sure what to do with it yet.
“I can definitely find some uses for that money,” City Manager Ken Frink told the Chronicle Editorial Board Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, “but what do we use that money for?”
County commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to award Crystal River a third of $1.7 million in CARES Act funds the county and Inverness will also get an even share of.
The $1.7 million was part of $4.7 million in leftover CARES money commissioners also plan to allocate to the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, United Way, applying nonprofits and the Computer Aided Dispatch system for the county sheriff’s office.
Frink said spending restrictions for Crystal River’s roughly $566,666 allotment will be based off the city’s charter and a contract with the county.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be any limitations on that,” he said. “There’ll definitely be a contract for that money.”
Frink said Crystal River could mirror what the county did with its initial allotment of CARES Act monies by giving it to applying businesses, but it could put city staff in a position of “picking winners and losers.”
“If it’s going to be for businesses,” he said, “if that’s the way the city goes, we have to look at the whole business community.”
Frink said the city has around 800 active business licenses on record, meaning an equal share to each storefront would be between $700 and $750.
City staff also doesn’t have “the infrastructure” to process applications as efficiently as the county.
Frink said city leaders could invest the money into something to impact local shops on a larger scale.
“Should we fund something more beneficial to a larger community?” he said. “We have a lot of talking to do.”
One of those grand initiatives could be finishing city’s $4.6 million Riverwalk boardwalk along King’s Bay.
Frink said the city is roughly $1.62 million short of starting construction on the project, which he’s hopeful to break ground on in 2022, after manatee season ends in late March.
Frink said he’ll be asking City Council to approve another funding request from Florida lawmakers, similar to the city’s $2 million ask for the 2019-20 legislative session.
However, due to economic impacts of from the novel coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis in June vetoed legislatures’ $200,000 appropriation to the city’s Riverwalk.
Frink said if council keeps its funding request to one item — the Riverwalk — the better chance there is of it getting money.
“In the past, we gave them a list and threw the kitchen sink at them,” he said. “We’re not going to get greedy.”
County commissioners Ron Kitchen and Jeff Kinnard have said the county, which had already contributed $500,000 through its Tourist Development Council, could offer another $550,000 in tourist taxes.
Also during Frink’s interview with the Chronicle Editorial Board:
Frink said property owners in Crystal River are flooding city hall’s building department with questions and concerns over news about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) upcoming move to raise base flood elevations for much of the county’s coast.
City staff recently sent out notices to homeowners advising them of FEMA’s changes, which could cause increased insurance rates for structures not built to the new flood codes.
Frink said the city is working on designing the second phase of its town square on the corner of U.S. 19 and Citrus Avenue with recently-awarded Lecanto contractors Daly & Zilch Inc.
Much of the designs will focus on limiting impacts to nearby wetlands, which could affect the city’s construction and permitting costs.