Because of a miscommunication, Newton County and its municipalities will not receive any new money from the state during the month of March.
The county was late in submitting a portion of its service delivery strategy to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. This document identifies which governmental entities will handle services, like fire fighting, public safety, sewer, trash, utilities and water, in which parts of the county. Because of its length and complexity, an SDS must only be updated once every 10 years according to state law.
Chairman Kathy Morgan said the county had planned to hand deliver a hard copy of the SDS to the DCA on Monday, the deadline day, but DCA had assured them that submitting the files electronically would be fine. However, because of a snafu, three service maps did not arrive to the DCA until Wednesday, DCA Assistant Commissioner Mike Gleaton said
As a result of the missed deadline, Gleaton said Newton County will temporarily be ineligible to receive any new state administered financial assistance, grants, loans or permits. Existing grants and existing state or federally-funded programs will not be affected. Also, governments are the only groups affected; non-profits and other organizations are still eligible to receive new state funding.Officials from the county and all six Newton County cities said they did not expect the one-month ineligibility to affect them. They said they did not know of any grants that were set to be decided upon and awarded during the month of March.
In addition, Morgan said from her understanding, even new grants or monies that were set to be awarded to Newton County or its cities in March, would simply be held and awarded to the county or cities in April. Gleaton said this was likely the case for some state agencies, but he did not know if all state agencies would follow this process.
Gleaton said state administered financial assistance refers mainly to federal money which is handed out by the state. For example, the Federal Highway Administration gives money to the Georgia Department of Transportation; local governments then apply to GDOT to receive that money. When state departments give out money directly, that is mainly in the form of grants.
He said permits are required for everything from large projects like new water plants to the smallest items, like radar guns. The only permits that may affect Newton County are those required for construction from the GDOT; but it was unclear Friday if the county or its cities would be affected.
Morgan said the county’s goal is to be in compliance with all state regulations 100 percent of the time. She said 10 years from now, the county will be sure to hand deliver the files. Gleason said Newton County has historically been very good partners.
"Newton County and Covington are locally high performers. They generally meet or exceed all the requirements, I think they just ran late, getting everything tidied up at the end and just missed. They were very close, but the law doesn’t say close counts," he said.
In addition to being late, Gleason said the original faxed copies of the maps were illegible. The submittal process for Newton County is to first send everything to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, and then NGRC forwards those on to DCA. Morgan and Middleton said the maps were faxed to NGRC on Monday. However, Gleaton said for some reason the files didn’t reach him until Wednesday.
Since that time, DCA has received legible copies of the map, and Gleason said Newton County should be back in compliance by April 1. DCA reviews compliance issues at the beginning of every month, so Newton County cannot come back in compliance before April 1.
Gleason said the penalties tied to the SDS are so stringent, because the purpose of an SDS is to ensure the best, most efficient delivery of services to customers. He speculated that the legislators decided if a city or county is being inefficient, then the state shouldn’t give them money.
Porterdale and Mansfield are also out of compliance because they have not finished their comprehensive plans.
Middelton said every city except Social Circle approved the SDS. Social Circle has expressed concern over water and sewer delivery in the land they annexed from Newton County. Morgan said Social Circle does not need to approve Newton’s SDS, because their population within Newton County is so small. However, Middleton said the county invited them to participate anyway.
"Newton County and the Municipalities within have always taken great pride in our working relationships with one another," he said.