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Newton board delays adding new nonprofits to COVID relief funding
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday continued their yearlong series of disagreements over distribution of federal COVID relief funds.

Board members voted not to consider approving a request to amend the agenda to add projects funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds reserved for his district.

County commissioners late last year agreed to have $1 million in ARPA funds reserved for each commissioner to use for projects in their districts as part of the county's $10.8 million share of first-round ARPA funding. 

The remainder is being distributed in other areas, including to county residents through an application process administered by the Salvation Army for assistance with utility and housing costs related to loss of income during the pandemic.

District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said the Board’s ARPA subcommittee recently discussed use of commissioners’ ARPA funds for two nonprofits, including ViewPoint Health and the Newton County Historical Committee which organizes the annual Juneteenth celebration in Covington. 

"One of those items (ViewPoint Health) was placed on the (May 3) agenda with no issues — why is there a problem now?" Sanders asked, in reference to the Historical Committee.

She noted Chairman Marcello Banes on May 3 allowed three groups to make presentations as part of his usual "Chairman's Report" section that often includes award presentations and presentations from area nonprofits.

Each group then appealed for ARPA funding during their presentations with two of the three groups — Willing Helpers free clinic and a Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club at a Newton County middle school — telling the Board they needed the money immediately. 

Commissioners voted to give a total of $1.08 million of money reserved for their districts, based on them qualifying for the money, and later agreed to have nonprofits appeal first to the ARPA subcommittee rather than directly to the full Board. 

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson on Tuesday said he also wanted consideration of his ARPA-funded projects placed on the agenda.

He said Banes — who controls what is placed on the agenda but is not a voting member — allowed each group to speak May 3. 

Banes responded that commissioners were not asked to give the money immediately but they voted to do so anyway as an emergency measure. 

Sanders said Henderson submitted the request for his projects to the Board's ARPA subcommittee in April without final action being taken to place them on an agenda for the full Board.

However, the Board voted 3-2 not to add Henderson's projects to the agenda with commissioners Stan Edwards, Demond Mason and Ronnie Cowan voting not to add the projects and Sanders and Henderson voting for it. 

Discussion indicated those opposing the addition to the agenda wanted them to be approved by the ARPA subcommittee first.

Interim County Manager Jarvis Sims said the subcommittee planned to schedule a public meeting to consider all the requests from local organizations for the funding.

The Board has been at odds on the timing and method of distribution of ARPA funds since receiving them in April 2021. Former county manager Lloyd Kerr's contract was not renewed in part because of his cautious response to begin distribution of the funds. Planning for distribution did not begin until about November 2021.

In other action Tuesday, May 17, the Board voted to: 

• Approve a $4.9 million bid from CMES Inc. for a realignment and replacement project for the Brown Bridge Road bridge over Snapping Shoals Creek. Funding includes 80% from Atlanta Regional Commission and 20% from SPLOST.

• Renew the county's employee health insurance with Cigna health insurance. 

• Approve a Conditional Use Permit for applicant Cinnamon Sarten to establish a commercial child daycare center in the CG (General Commercial) zoning district in three suites of a building at 2606, 2608 & 2610 Hwy. 212.

• Rezone a 12.39-acre parcel on Henderson Mill Road from A (Agricultural) to AR (Agricultural Residential) to subdivide one parcel into five lots for family members to reside there.

• Rezone a 15.82-acre parcel at 11915 Hwy. 278 from A (Agricultural) to AR (Agricultural Residential) to subdivide one parcel into two lots for family members to reside there.

• Appoint Kim Payne and Ashley Cahill to the Animal Service Board.

• Appoint Zach Ames and the Rev. Yvonne English to the Library Board.