Special BOCC meeting today now scheduled for 6 p.m.
In a news release sent Tuesday afternoon about opening the county beaches, Nassau County’s public information officer, Sabrina Robertson, wrote: “we have received notification that Governor DeSantis plans to lift the stay-at-home order on Thursday, April 30. In anticipation of this, County staff is developing a new procedure to re-open County beaches for normal activities (excluding beach driving, camping, horseback riding and commercial activities) while following CDC guidelines and other restrictions. This would include requirements to maintain social distancing and to limit groups to no more than 10 individuals, and any other restrictions deemed necessary to protect the health of the residents.
“In an effort to prevent overcrowding, the County Manager will also be recommending that only individuals with Nassau County registered vehicles be allowed to use the beach access parking areas. Vehicles not registered in Nassau County would be subject to a $500 fine.
“Please note that this plan will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners at their Special Meeting ... A separate Press Release will be issued containing additional details should the Board vote tomorrow to proceed with a complete re-opening on Friday, May 1st.”
Congressman John Rutherford called in to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday to update commissioners on federal legislation meant to help small businesses and their employees stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Addressing the Paycheck Protection Program, Rutherford said, “We’re trying to get this money out as quickly as possible.”
PPP loans, which require an application via a participating lender to be approved via the Small Business Administration, are “designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll,” according to the SBA, which has said it “will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.”
“It really represents dollars going to workers – individuals,” Rutherford said. “I see people online all the time, questioning – ‘Well, what about the individuals? You’re giving money to businesses (but) you’re not giving money to people.’ Well, those businesses employ people. ... If 75% of that loan is not dedicated to payroll, then that loan remains a loan. The way they have their loan become forgiven, and become a grant, is that they have to distribute 75% to their employees through payroll.”
Rutherford also highlighted $25 million in the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, allocated to the U.S. Treasury Department’s inspector general to provide oversight for the program, including hiring forensic auditors to look at the loans “so the onus is not on the lender to make sure that this is a company in need. It’s really up to the borrower.”
Rutherford then turned to his concerns about District 4. “When I look at where the money went, the number one industry supported was construction. Agriculture was in about the bottom third, and that concerns me,” he said.
Referring to the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act signed into law last week as “CARES 2.0,” Rutherford said the law pumped another $310 billion into the SBA’s PPP program and increased economic injury disaster loans by $20 billion, which should help agriculture. Billions more went to “small community institutions,” such as small lenders and state and federal credit unions. Billions also went to the Department of Agriculture for direct commodity purchases.
Among other allocations Rutherford listed in the bill, $75 billion was directed to hospitals and $25 billion to coronavirus testing.
“You can see we tried to be very inclusive in this and make sure that we’re going to get this money down to the local level,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford mentioned a letter he wrote to ask for an extension on the application period for grants offered under the Stop School Violence Act and asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to forego the 25% local match on its disaster loans.
“Thank you for fighting for Northeast Florida and Nassau County,” Chairman Danny Leeper told Rutherford.
Leeper voiced concern about the “large impact” the current situation is having on both agriculture and tourism in Nassau County before asking Rutherford if there has been any discussion about dedicated funding for counties with populations of 100,000 or less.
“There’s a bill … that would do just that, providing $250 billion to small local economies, governments,” Rutherford continued, but also said he has heard that Congress may have put too many “guardrails” on the money it already allocated to the states.
Rutherford assured the commissioners that the money returned to the PPP program by businesses like the Los Angeles Lakers would go “right back into the program.”
“I just wish we could have gotten this money out maybe two, three weeks before we were actually able to get it passed, because by the time we had it passed, we already had 22 million unemployed. Through the PPP program, they can hire those people back, and I hope many are being hired back.”
Commissioner Aaron Bell asked Rutherford to do what he can to secure funding for smaller counties, adding, “We are doing quite a bit to just make sure people have enough food, and that’s a real risk for many of our citizens, and so certainly we will do what we need to do to feed our folks, but it’s dire.”
In response, Rutherford again mentioned his concern about agriculture and pointed to money allocated to the federal SNAP program via the CARES Act to support low- and no-income families needing help to purchase food.
In a discussion about reopening the county’s beaches in concert with the state and the city of Fernandina Beach, County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin said, “We’re all waiting for the governor to indicate what his phasing will be.” The BOCC voted last week to open the county’s beaches by May 6, but Mullin said the state opening its local beaches, such as at Amelia Island State Park and Fort Clinch Park, could result in the county “possibly opening up before May 6.” Mullin said the issue would be discussed in more detail at Wednesday’s special meeting.
Mullin also mentioned the county’s consideration of changes to its beach use ordinance, and how those changes might be impacted by the temporary restrictions put in place to allow a controlled reopening of the beaches.
The board voted unanimously to continue until May 21 items requiring a public hearing because of the public’s inability to attend current meetings, which are being held virtually. Those items were ordinances to restrict driving and parking on county beaches; banning the retail sale of dogs, cats, or rabbits from a commercial establishment or roadway; repealing and replacing certain impact fees; amendments to the Future Land Use Map and the Land Development Code; amending the county’s Comprehensive Plan; consideration of a final development plat for specific segments of the Amelia National Planned Unit Development; and consideration of a PUD to rezone 265.65 acres on the west side of Lem Turner Road between Lawhon Road and Dornbush Road in the Callahan area.
The commissioners also unanimously approved an evaluation committee’s ranking of bids for providing design services for the Westside Regional Park and negotiations with the highest-ranking firm, which was Prosser. They also unanimously approved a work order for $67,949.44 for Florida Government Utility Authority to inspect and repair manholes and fire hydrants through June 30.
Saying the county had “lost a special lady,” Mullin mentioned Leeper’s authorization to draft a resolution honoring local businesswoman and community activist Mrs. Joan Bean, who died last week. The board unanimously approved the resolution.
Mullin also warned the commissioners that he will be bringing them dates for special meetings, perhaps twice a week, once restrictions are lifted on public gatherings, to handle the public hearings that have been continued.
There is a special meeting now scheduled for 6 p.m. today, April 29, to extend the county’s state of emergency and to discuss any other county-related business. The BOCC meetings and others can be viewed at https://nassauclerk.com/watch-meetings/.