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Posted: December 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

BOC debates aid for foreclosed homes

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 long-term 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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