Pensacola wants $480K from CARES Act to enforce mask order; citations yet to be issued

Jim Little Pensacola News JournalPublished 5:39 PM EDT Aug 27, 2020It will cost the Pensacola Police Departmen

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It will cost the Pensacola Police Department $480,000 to enforce the city's mask ordinance through Dec. 31, although officers have yet to issue a single citation for violating the ordinance.

The cost was revealed during an Escambia County Commission meeting Thursday discussing the county's CARES Act plan. The city of Pensacola submitted a list of costs totaling $5.4 million that were eligible for reimbursement under the more than $57 million Escambia County is charged with distributing under the CARES Act.

Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender brought up the item for the cost to enforce the mask ordinance, asking Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson how many citations the city had issued.

"I know we've issued some warnings," Robinson said. "I don't believe we've issued any official citations."

Pensacola Police Department Chief Tommi Lyter, who was also at the meeting, confirmed the city had not issued any citations for violating the mask ordinance but had made several contacts with the public and issued warnings about the mask ordinance.

In June, Robinson issued an emergency order mandating masks be worn in public places indoors in the city, and the City Council later passed an emergency ordinance that added fines for violations.

The Escambia County Commission has declined to pass any mask ordinance, instead spending $250,000 in CARES Act funds on a public marketing campaign encouraging people to wear masks and passing a resolution calling on people to wear face coverings.

Bender, who holds the District 4 seat on the County Commission that Robinson once occupied, questioned why the $480,000 was requested.

Lyter said the funds were for overtime paid to police officers enforcing the ordinance. Amy Lovoy, the city's chief financial officer, said the amount was an estimate of the cost from when the ordinance went into effect until the end of the year.

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Bender said he had a problem supporting $480,000 for enforcing an ordinance that he feels isn't being enforced.

"It's been stated that you guys aren't enforcing the mask mandate, that we haven't written any citations," Bender said. "I mean, ultimately, it's up to us to prove this number."

Lyter said just because there haven't been any citations issued doesn't mean the city hasn't enforced the ordinance.

"When we have a DUI checkpoint, ideally, you don't make any DUI arrests, because all of the media attention, just the threat of a checkpoint should be enough to deter people from drunk driving," Lyter said. "The fact that the mayor rolled out the media attention, and the fact that we said we have officers out enforcing the mask order was enough to get people to wear masks. We had a number of contacts with people that ended up positive, but the fact that there is zero citations is not a measure of failure. To me, that's a measure of success."

Bender said he was still concerned that if the county got audited and found the money was not used to enforce the mask ordinance in the city, the county would be liable to repay the money back to the federal government.

Robinson said the county would not be liable and was willing to sign a sub-recipient grant agreement stating that.

"If we make a mistake, that's on us, it's not on you," Robinson said.

The commission will continue discussing the CARES Act plan at its meeting next week.

During the discussion Thursday, Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, the only commissioner wearing a mask, joked with Lyter about issuing citations at the county chambers, which is in city limits. The mask ordinance doesn't apply inside county buildings.

"You could write a few in here because this is in the city," May said. "You could write them right now."

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