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By Gretchen McPherson
Ledger Staff 

Century eyes ways to use grant funds

COVID relief funds designed to help town


March 31, 2022

Although they made no decisions, the Century Town Council Tuesday night discussed several ways to utilize the money the town has received for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), funds to be used to support response and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The town has received $462,288, half of the total of $924,576 through the Florida Division of Emergency Management under the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The other half will come in later this year and all of it must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.

A report that outlines a broad idea of how the town will utilize the funds is due to the US treasury by April 30, 2022. There are limited eligible uses for the money. They include; a response to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts; premium pay to eligible and essential workers who worked during the COVID-19 public health emergency; for provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to COVID and make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. Reeves said the monies cannot be used on outstanding debt.

The workshop was held to get feedback from council members about how to spend the money that will help the town the most.

Newly hired Town Consultant Meredith Reeves guided the meeting, answering questions about ways the money can be spent and explaining limitations.

Reeves said none of the monies can be used on costs prior to March 3, 2021, the official start of the pandemic.

Councilwoman Sandra McMurray Jackson said she would like to have input from residents of the community beyond just the council. Other council members agreed.

It was suggested that a page with bright attention-getting print could go out with bills in April that will give residents a chance to include their input, especially with a looming deadline of April 30.

“Those general eligible activities are to get us started to think,” said Reeves. “What we need to ask ourselves before we decide, is what is the need or some negative impact from Covid-19? We need to ask before we proceed….this is definitely a wonderful opportunity for the town, this one-time grant allocation that's almost a million dollars.”

A few suggestions Reeves made as some activities that address public health and economic impact were retro-fitting the HVAC system in municipal buildings to provide a better air filtration system, as some other governments are, touchless items throughout the bathroom and doors and a cover over the drive-thru so customers could avoid coming into town hall.

She described home buyer assistance programs, legal aid assistance to help with title work, home repair assistance, small business assistance (such as facade improvements) and job training assistance.

Councilman Luis Gomes asked Reeves to expound on job training assistance.

“Due to Covid-19, obviously, there have been a lot of folks who have had hours reduced or cut back so you could explore some partnerships with the college to provide maybe tuition assistance for training or the like,” said Reeves.

Discussion led to a suggestion that would be like a scholarship at the college. CPA Robert Hudson expressed concern that qualifications and how to implement that could be time-consuming.

“I want this money to go to something for the citizens that we can see and measure,” said Gomez. “In the past, too many times, we have had programs that administration could only see, and not the actual citizen. By the time it trickles down, you have nothing. This is nearly a million dollars we can actually make a difference with in the town of Century.”

Gomez cited his visit to Flomaton and was surprised by the touchless and secure town hall there.

In home repair assistance, Reeves said this money is for individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid and suggested the town could set it up similar to the CDBG program, which is income-eligible owner occupants to do housing repairs. She said she could look at that as a basis.

Hudson suggested looking at nearby municipalities about the size of Century to see what they are using the funds for.

Reeves also said one aspect of home repair that could qualify for legal aid assistance is helping home owners with title work.

“In the past, a lot of citizens have had trouble qualifying for home repair assistance because they have title problems,” said Reeves. “The legal aid assistance may be something you could contract with Legal Services of North Florida to clear title so they could have access to housing repair assistance.”

She explained that almost any type of repair would qualify and emphasized the income eligibility and that there was negative economic impact from Covid.

Hudson reminded the council that in the last couple of years, people did not have to contract Covid but instead state that they were in fear of contracting Covid to justify staying out of the workforce to qualify for any benefits.

Councilman Gomez expressed concern about where administrative fees would come from if housing was a choice. Reeves said administrative fees must be budgeted and pointed out that the fee can be set by the council. She said the council can set their own parameters on the funds, such as allocating $30,000 for each house repair, but pointed out that they need to consider the administrative fees and have them set aside.

Councilwoman Dynette Lewis asked Reeves if she would be compensated by ARPA funds and Reeves said yes.

“Any time that I spend on that, yes, I would be.” said Reeves.

Gomez said he was baffled that administrative fees can be so different for like projects and did not understand why there was not a template or something to designate a set amount for fees.

Hudson pointed out that CDBG grants have a limit of 5 percent of the grant's total for administrative fees.

“Your home inspection, home engineering, is part of home construction,” said Hudson. “Your administration is something different. Administration is 5 percent.”

Hudson explained the difference between building costs and administration costs.

Discussion led to that in this case, the amounts could be different as repairs vary from home to home.

Reeves brought up infrastructure but added that the county is working on broadband and suggested that investing money in broadband would be duplicating.

“I did not suggest broadband infrastructure because the county is considering using a lot of their funding,” said Reeves.

Reeves said she had spoken with Municipal Engineering's Dale Long, who is working with the town on long-term projects that will improve the water and wastewater facility and noted that the town is currently renting two sewer by-pass pumps suggesting purchasing one would be an eligible expense. She said the interconnect with Central Waterworks could be another consideration for the town.

There is a request for legislative appropriations for new water meters and for a new interconnect, but he was not sure both would be pushed forward.

Long said there is discussion about two more interconnects, one where Stateline Road and Highway 4A come together and one at Highway 4 West.

“The advantage is, if Central had a well go out and the town has excess water, you can sell it to Central and vice versa,” said Long. “It would help both Central and the town of Century.”

Long reiterated that water infrastructure is not so visible to the public as far as improvements, but it is vital to life in Century. He said it definitely is more expensive to buy water than to produce it and pointed out that the interconnect in place at the prison now is really for the prison and that it would not benefit the town.

Reeves mentioned investing in hardware and software to protect the infrastructure and Mayor Ben Boutwell mentioned that cybersecurity is a real concern for municipalities today. Discussion led to the benefit of allowing citizens to pay their bills online, which would involve software that is compatible with equipment in the field.

Long was surprised that the town did not offer that, surprised the town was 'way behind the times.'

Town Clerk Leslie Howington said the town is in the process of making online pay a choice but it's not there yet.

Long said he has has issues getting information on the town's current software, that he needs to do his job as a civil engineer. He compared AMR (radio read from vehicle) and AMI (antennae system) and said that he thought the radio reads were more reliable.

Discussion about the system the town has and its flaws led to the possibility of getting a new system of meters and software to read them more efficiently.

Long said the top several water meter companies offer the same warrantees and that it's really about relying on the company's warrantee and the length of time the company has been around, citing that water meter companies previously have gone out of business, leaving municipalities with obsolete systems and no upgrades.

Town employee Kevin Merchant expressed concerns that the town just upgraded its water billing system three years ago and asked how often they will have to do that in the future.

Hudson pointed out that most companies have a maintenance fee paid on a schedule that will allow municipalities to upgrade and updates to the software to keep up with the system, including security updates.

Merchant pointed out that the system the town has now does not seem to have a support system and suggested using a new system on a trial basis before they decide to purchase it.

“Century seems to do that a lot,” said Merchant. “We jump in with both feet before testing the product.”

Reeves suggesting the town make sure the existing software works with a new system or decide on a new one, whether they decide to use the ARPA funds or not. She said some local governments are doing worked retention incentives.

Better security upgrades for town hall, including badge swipe entryways were discussed.

Stormwater improvements to justify culvert replacement or park improvements in lower income areas were discussed. Communication improvements, mainly a better signal, was discussed with council members agreeing that cell phone service in Century is very limited

Councilwoman Dynette Lewis asked about tutors or tutor vouchers for early learners, especially since virtual school has recently been implemented.

The problematic lack of computers and internet access in Century was a topic, and Gomez asked Reeves to look into internet access or service, even for a limited time, would be possible.

The recent uptick in bills since Florida Light and power came up and Reeves said the county has a program to assist with utilities and rent at

Hudson suggested the council come up with eligible activities and amounts both and the town can amend any spending it contemplates later, if needed.

Reeves said the council has given her a lot to work on and thanked them for their input.

The next meeting to finalize some amounts and activities the town has as goals will be at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 12, at town hall.


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