BOC de­bates aid for fore­closed homes

The Covington News - - Local news - By Rachel Oswald

At the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sioner meet­ing last Tues­day, the board once again de­bated whether the county should par­tic­i­pate in a state pro­gram of buy­ing and re­de­vel­op­ing fore­closed homes.

The board of com­mis­sion­ers di­vided along party lines over the role the gov­ern­ment should play in the lo­cal econ­omy with Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers gen­er­ally agree­ing that the county should not in­volve it­self in buy­ing and re­selling res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties and Demo­cratic com­mis­sion­ers say­ing that the unique cir­cum­stances of the de­clin­ing econ­omy war­ranted it.

“I don’t see any room for gov­ern­ment get­ting into the hous­ing busi­ness. Let the free mar­ket take care of it­self. As a ci­ti­zen if my com­mis­sioner voted for this, I’d want to run him out of the county,” said District 3 Com­mis­sioner Es­ther Flem­ing, a Repub­li­can whose term ex­pires at the end of the year.

District 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son, a Demo­crat whose district in­cludes most of Cov­ing­ton and all of Ox­ford, made an im­pas­sioned plea for sup­port from the board to par­tic­i­pate in the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs’ Neigh­bor­hood Sta­bi­liza­tion Pro­gram, which is be­ing funded by the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

The DCA will over­see the dis­tri­bu­tion of $77 mil­lion in fed­eral funds to lo­cal gov­ern­ments for the pur­chase and re­de­vel­op­ment of fore­closed prop­er­ties. At an ear­lier meet­ing County Se­nior Plan­ner Scott Sirotkin told the BOC that New­ton County had been al­lo­cated $2.1 mil­lion un­der the plan. The county will find out whether it has been awarded those funds in mid-Jan­uary.

Sirotkin told the BOC that be­cause nei­ther the county nor the city of Cov­ing­ton, which has also ap­plied to take part in the hous­ing pro­gram, has any ex­pe­ri­ence in buy­ing and re­de­vel­op­ing prop­er­ties, their ap­pli­ca­tion to the DCA would be looked upon more fa­vor­ably if they were to part­ner with an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion that does have the ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are few for profit or non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions that do have the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence in the area Sirotkin said, though Henry County may also be con­sid­er­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Neigh­bor­hood Sta­bi­liza­tion Pro­gram.

Sirotkin sug­gested that the county may want to hire ad­di­tional staff with ex­per­tise in work­ing with the fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments on pro­grams such as the NSP.

District 1 Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing, a Repub­li­can, said he was skep­ti­cal that the county would be awarded any funds from the pro­gram and that it wouldn’t be worth hir­ing any ad­di­tional staff on such a slim chance. In other BOC news: The board ap­proved a longterm lease agree­ment with the Cousins Com­mu­nity Cen­ter Inc. for the leas­ing of the Cousins Gym to pro­vide ad­di­tional space for the New­ton County Recre­ation Depart­ment.

• The length of the lease will last from De­cem­ber 2008 un­til De­cem­ber 2028 and the county will pay $750 per month for the first three years of the lease to Cousins Com­mu­nity Cen­ter Inc. and $1,000 per month for the re­main­ing term of the lease.

• For the ini­tial first five years of the lease, Cousins Gym is to be used only for recre­ational pur­poses by the New­ton County Recre­ation Com­mis­sion and by Project Ad­ven­ture Inc., a lo­cal non­profit that houses and ed­u­cates at-risk youth. At the end of the five years, the gym maybe used for other pur­poses sim­i­lar to other pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties such as the Turner Lake Park Com­plex.

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