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Newton board matches city's $30K donation to help homeless shelter
Commission requires Rainbow shelter officials to provide receipts of spending
Tornado damage
A tarp covers part of the roof of the Rainbow Community Shelter in Covington after an Oct. 10, 2020, storm blew much of the roofing off. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County commissioners Tuesday night approved taking $30,000 from contingency funds to match Covington’s donation approved the previous night to help a homeless shelter that was badly damaged in an Oct. 10 storm.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday, Oct. 20, to approve moving the funds from its 2021 budget to match the Covington City Council’s $30,000 donation to the Rainbow Community Shelter — giving a total of $60,000 from the two governing bodies.

The vote included a requirement that shelter officials provide the county with receipts of individual expenditures of the approved funding.

Chairman Marcello Banes Tuesday suggested the county’s contribution come from the county’s contingency funds, which typically are reserved for such unforeseen costs as storm damage to public buildings or project cost overruns.

“This is just one of those natural disasters we prepared for,” said Commissioner Ronnie Cowan.

Finance Director Brittany White said the board had included $54,000 in its budget for contingencies. 

She said the board could use $30,000 of its contingency funds and review the county’s financial position later in the budget year to see how to reimburse them, she said.  

Covington council members Monday narrowly approved contributing the money to the county after some members said they wanted more information about how the funds would be spent.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Stan Edwards shared similar concerns and suggested the county Emergency Management Agency be responsible for approving the shelter’s individual expenditures as a “way to feedback to us official accountability” of the money.

However, Banes said he believed it might place an unfair burden on the small nonprofit as it worked to rebuild and care for its residents. 

Cowan said it was “prudent” to seek a record of receipts directly from the shelter “rather than tying them up with the EMA.” 

The requirement for the receipts was included in the motion for approval.

Members voted after county government attorney Megan Martin said she did not believe the board could legally approve Commissioner J.C. Henderson’s original request to take the funds from SPLOST collections without the county having an ownership stake in the shelter’s building.

Voter-approved SPLOST funds can only be used for construction of capital projects. 

State law requires officials to list the projects and their costs in a resolution, though it also allows projects to be listed in unspecific categories — such as safety improvements — rather than specific work.

Martin said her research of laws governing SPLOST led her to recommend the donation not come from the special sales tax unless the county government owned the shelter’s building. 

The Rainbow shelter leases its building off Turner Lake Road from the Covington Housing Authority.

Banes added he was thankful the commission empowered officials at the county’s Cousins complex to open its gym to house male shelter residents on an emergency basis after the storm.

The National Weather Service reported the Oct. 10 storm included a tornado that touched down along a path for more than a mile in northwest Covington.