Because of recent success, the city of Covington is receiving an additional $75,000 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program money from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Glenn Misner, DCA’s director of field services, said on Tuesday that the city had been awarded the additional money because it had been successful in spending its original allocation of $428,000.
He said three government entities, Cherokee County, Fayette County and the City of Warner Robins had all voluntarily returned their NSP money, because they decided the program was not a fit for them. The DCA then reallocated those funds to several other communities. Nearby Rockdale County received an additional $12,000.
City Planning Director Randy Vinson said he had received a phone call notifying him of the award, and said the money would hopefully be used to purchase one or, possibly, two more homes. The city originally spent all of their money in early December by purchasing eight town-homes in the Walker’s Bend community, located off of Ga. Highway 81.
He said the city originally sent a letter to DCA requesting around $225,000. At that time, another home was available for purchase in Walker’s Bend, but an investor bought it before Covington received more money. Investors have been purchasing several properties in the neighborhood, which has been a problem for many communities spending NSP money. Vinson said if too many rental properties are created in the area, the city will have trouble carrying out its revitalization goals.
Local Habitat for Humanity President Jeremy Shearer said his group is still making repairs to the townhomes. The eight families have already been picked and Shearer expects the families to sign their mortgages by the end of this month. One townhome had a burst pipe, but Shearer said the damage wasn’t extensive.
Vinson said the city will continue to look in Walker’s Bend, as well as other neighborhoods in the target census tract. Two neighborhoods that were previously targeted and are still being considered are Jefferson Village and Sterling Lakes.
So far the governments that have given money back to DCA have done so voluntarily. However, Misner said DCA will likely start taking back money from non-performing communities in mid-February. All money has to be obligated, or accounted for in contracts, by Sept. 5, otherwise DCA will have to return the NSP stimulus money.
"One of the issues with this program is that it’s brand new. We don’t know how it operates, and folks are just now getting up to speed. We’d like to get folks going and keep folks going. Unless the Sept. 5 deadline changes, that’s going to be it," Misner said.
Covington hopes to receive more allocations at that point. At Wednesday’s council meeting, Mayor Kim Carter said that Covington was the first entity in Georgia to spend all of its NSP money.
In other city news, the council informally decided Wednesday that it is going to stay out of the Social Circle drag strip debate, because the proposed project would be outside the Covington city limits.
Mayor Kim Carter said the Leadership Collaborative had been discussing the possibility of signing a joint letter in opposition to the proposed drag strip, because the project goes against the county’s comprehensive and land use plans.
The Leadership Collaborative is a collective group of members from the Newton County Board of Commissioners, the Newton County School System, the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority, the City of Covington and Social Circle City Schools.
"However, after reading a draft of the letter today, we asked (City Attorney) Mr. (Ed) Crudup to chime in a little bit from a legal point of view. It’s really not in the best interest of the city to sign the letter," Carter said. "While we do support the collaborative and the planning process, in this particular case, I just don’t think that’s the right thing."
Carter asked if any council members felt differently, but they all said they wished to remain neutral.
The proposed drag strip would be in Newton County, within the city limits of Social Circle. In early January, the BOC wrote a letter in opposition to the drag strip and sent it to the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission.
The commission will be holding a work session next Monday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. to hold a hearing on the issue. The meeting is open to the public, but only representatives from both sides pre-selected by the commission will be invited to speak.
The city also posted a senior planner position on their Web site this week. The position had been vacant since former planner Michelle Larsen resigned on Dec. 4 to take a position with the consulting firm The Collaborative Firm.
Vinson said Wednesday that he and Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan would be handling the interviewing and hiring. According to the official job description the city is looking for a solid combination of education and experience. They would like someone with a masters in a planning or design field, two to five years of experience in planning or related work and certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.
Vinson said the duties of the senior planner are to handle rezoning applications and see how they fit in with the city’s comprehensive plan, ordinances and future land use map. The planner also helps with long range city planning, including updating the comprehensive plan and working on various housing and community development initiatives. The planner also makes staff reports to the planning commission and city council.
The pay grade for the position is between $45,000 and $60,000 depending on experience.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, City Manager Steve Horton informed the council of the job posting. He said although the budget is tight and many positions are not being filled, he and Cowan felt that the city needed the position because of the importance of the planning department and lack of resources currently there.
Cowan said Vinson was already stretched thin, and Horton said if Vinson was out of action for any length of time, there is no one else with the appropriate professional experience to fill in.
Horton said if the council decides it does not want to fill the position, no one will be hired. He also assured them that positions deemed non-essential would not be filled.
Cowan said when a planner is hired, he or she will likely take several months to get up to speed, which is why it’s important to get the position filled as quickly as possible. Applicants can apply online at cityofcovington.org by going to the Human Resources Department page and clicking on "Current Career Opportunities."