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Porterdale puts shelter suit on hold
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The city of Porterdale has decided to wait and see how events unfold at Monday night's Covington City Council meeting before continuing with legal action against the Rainbow Covenant Ministries homeless shelter.

At a status conference Friday morning before Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr., city of Porterdale Attorney Tim Chambers said the city would wait and see if the shelter would be able to voluntarily relocate to Covington before it would proceed with its lawsuit against the shelter.

Chambers said Porterdale would be closely following the outcome of Monday night's meeting when Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey brings a proposal before the council and the public to spend a small portion of the proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable on relocating the homeless shelter to three buildings located on Turner Lake Circle.

"Right now parties are unable assess how real the possibility is," Chambers said.

The city of Porterdale filed a lawsuit against the Rainbow Covenant Ministries program several years ago on the grounds that the shelter was not in compliance with city zoning regulations.

The suit was previously postponed at the end of 2006 when a new location for the shelter was proposed in Covington on property owned by Rainbow Covenant Ministries Director the Rev. Clara Lett and her family. But in the face of public opposition from residents near the proposed site in Green Acres/Nelson Heights, it was decided to search for another location for the shelter.

Both Chambers and attorney for the shelter, Joel Oster, agreed to another status conference in either February or March of 2008 if at that time the shelter was still located in Porterdale.

According to Ramsey, the proposal on the table for residents and council members to debate on Monday is whether or not to spend approximately 4 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the cable system on purchasing the three buildings located on Turner Lake Circle. The buildings are currently used by McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council Inc. for a Head Start program.

The city of Covington was paid $27,261,925 from Charter Communications Inc. for the sale of Covington Cable. Approximately 4 percent of that total would be $1.09 million though the actual cost of the purchase has not yet been released.

 If the proposal passes, Ramsey said the Covington Housing Authority would be purchasing the property and leasing it to Rainbow Covenant Ministries, Faithworks - a local nonprofit which provides emergency financial relief to families struggling to pay their utility bills - and possibly the Community Food Pantry.

The city of Covington would not be providing any operating expenses to the shelter said Ramsey. In its six-year history Rainbow Covenant Ministries has been supported by contributions from local churches, businesses, civic organizations and by individual donors.

If the shelter were to relocate to Covington, it would become eligible to apply for additional funding from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The shelter is not currently eligible for DCA funding in its present location in Porterdale said Lett.

Additionally some federal funding may soon be available for the operation of the shelter if it relocates to Covington.

According to Doug Moore, communications director for Congressman Jim Marshall, $100,000 in funding for the operation of a homeless shelter located in Covington was included in The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008. The bill was voted out of the House of Representatives at the end of July and a similar bill was voted out of the Senate on Sept. 12.

Before the shelter can receive the funding, both chambers of Congress must resolve any differences between their two bills which will then be combined into a single bill which must then be approved by President George W. Bush.

While Moore said there was the possibility that the bill might be vetoed by Bush on account of other items in the bill unrelated to the shelter funding, he added that there was a good chance that the funding would make it through.

"The bill's going to go through substantial revisions," Moore said. "This specific project is not a concern but all of these things get caught up sort of in the backwash of these (other) concerns."

The Covington City Council will debate Ramsey's proposal at their Monday night meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the Covington City Hall, located on Emory Street.