To say we are living in interesting times would truly be an understatement. 2020 has brought with it one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history, an economic recession, social unrest in our streets, social justice issues at the forefront of conversation, and, of course, a global pandemic.
Tallahassee, Florida, is a wonderful community of 200,000 residents. We are the capital city and the home of Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Tallahassee Community College. We are proud of – and recognized for – our rich history, natural beauty, arts, culture, and diversity. Like all communities across the world, however, we have been tremendously impacted by COVID-19.
Before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in our community, the City organization took proactive, comprehensive action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of area residents and our staff, while maintaining the continuity of services.
Within the organization, roughly one-third of our workforce, which is comprised of more than 3,000 employees, transitioned to a remote work posture, and innovative processes were implemented to further protect staff while they continued providing essential municipal services. We implemented health safety guidelines, began health screening for employees as they reported to work, acquired and distributed personal protective equipment, responded rapidly to positive cases within the organization, and assisted impacted employees. Most importantly, while living through the global pandemic, we were able to execute all our new plans and strategies while retaining 100 percent of our City workforce. We did not furlough a single employee.
Within the community, we provided millions of dollars of direct assistance to residents, businesses, and local human services agencies to help bridge the gap until federal relief arrived. While we won accolades on a national level for these efforts, our focus from day one has been the health, safety, and welfare of our residents and meeting their needs during this turbulent time.
As the owner of the electric utility, the City immediately suspended utility disconnects for non-payment and launched a Utility Relief Program. In addition to being the first municipality in the state to take such action, we reduced electric bills by 27 percent during the month of May for all customers, which provided $6.3 million of utility relief assistance. We leveraged federal dollars to create the City CARES Home Repair Program that provides up to $15,000 in assistance for home repairs for residents negatively affected by COVID-19. To aid some of our most vulnerable residents, we developed a Homeless Taskforce Dashboard to help manage and provide services to those experiencing homelessness. This dashboard has since been recognized as a national best practice for real-time, multi-agency, emergency shelter coordination.
Our businesses and non-profits needed our assistance as well. In conjunction with the County, the City provided $1 million of direct grants for impacted local small businesses through the COVID-19 Economic Disaster Relief (CEDR) grant program. We followed this with the creation of the Local Emergency Assistance for Non-profits (LEAN) grant program, which provided $1 million of direct grants to impacted local non-profits. Through these grant programs, the City was able to maximize our local relief by securing more than $30 million of federal grant funding through the CARES Act.
Organization and communication have been key to our success. In early 2020, as we monitored the crisis evolving around the world, the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, Leon County Schools, the university community, the business community, and the health care community began working together to develop a collective plan of action. As a result, three initiatives were created.
First, Leon County, with the support of the City, put in place one of the first stay-at-home orders in the state to help slow the spread of COVID-19. In fact, our local order was put in place nearly two weeks prior to the Governor’s Executive Order. Our community was also one of the first to put in place a face mask ordinance to protect citizens.
Second, the City partnered with our region’s largest hospital, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, to create one of the first drive-through testing facilities in Florida. We quickly became the model that other cities looked to for successful community testing.
Third, the City created a partnership with a local sock manufacturing company to produce 25,000 masks for our workforce and residents. Because of the ingenuity of our local entrepreneurs who retooled their manufacturing process, we were one of the first cities to provide free masks to individuals in need.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the City’s mission is to be the national leader in the delivery of public services. We are achieving that in ways not previously imagined, while ensuring Tallahassee remains a place people are proud to call home.
Every day as Mayor of Tallahassee, I encourage our residents to remain calm because we are going to get through this together. Our community is resilient, creative, and caring, and we are positioned to emerge from this crisis stronger than before, reinforcing that, together, we are “Tallahassee Strong.”