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How is taxpayer money being spent on pandemic relief?

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) -Taxpayers are funding several projects during the pandemic, but 8 On Your Side is checking to see if that money is being put to good use.

On April 1, Hillsborough County officials began leasing quarantine and isolation hotels near the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus. The West Wing hotel on East Fowler Avenue opened as the quarantine site and the Quality Inn on East Fowler Ave. opened as the isolation site. Both sites are being funded by taxpayers.

The county booked 362 rooms between both hotels. As of March 13, only one person is inside the quarantine hotel and 19 are in the isolation hotel.

8 On Your Side found out more than $860,000/month is being used on the hotels. According to county officials, that number is a rough estimate and doesn’t include smaller, associated costs. That money is being used to fund the lease, the 24 hour daily operations, employees, security, food, cleaning efforts and more.

The county has a six month lease with the hotels. The lease is month-to-month. If the county were to go through the entire six month lease, more than $6 million taxpayer dollars would have been spent on the hotels.

With positive cases still rolling in and hundreds of room still empty, some taxpayers are beginning to wonder if leasing the hotels are worth the money. 8 On Your Side spoke to Hillsborough County’s Operations Section Chief, Iñaki Rezola, Tuesday. Rezola says regardless of how much has been spent, the county believes the hotels are a good investment.

“We’re in a situation where if we don’t plan for it and we have a need, then we aren’t meeting the needs of our community and we aren’t serving it right, so we need to poised to serve the community and it’s a good investment,” Rezola said.

Rezola said the Department of Health makes the call on whether to stop leasing the hotels or not. Right now, the department is erring on the side of caution, according to Rezola.

“These are decisions that are made at the county leadership level in terms of making sure we are ready to respond,” Rezola said. “I would rather be ready to respond then be caught flat footed and not ready to respond if the community needs us.”

Rezola said it is possible the hotels may also be used for hurricane safety efforts in conjunction with pandemic efforts. At the end of May, the county would have spent close to $2 million on the quarantine and isolation sites.

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