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Nonprofits retain previous year's level of Newton County funding in 2023
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — A group of nonprofits that receive annual funding from the Newton County government will receive the same amount as last year.

Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to give a group of nonprofit 501(C)3 organizations the same funding in its 2023 budget as it gave them in its 2022 budget.

The funding approved Tuesday, June 28, was for a group that includes Nelson Heights Community Center — of which District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson’s son, Anthony, is director — and Washington Street Community Center and others.

However, the Board's approval was given with the requirement that each nonprofit provide financial statements audited by an accountant of their choice to show how and where the county funding is spent.

The June 28 action came after two commissioners at the Board's June 21 meeting asked Interim County Manager Jarvis Sims why appropriations were reduced to $2,500 apiece for three agencies that usually receive much more.

Commissioners seemed confused about whether the organizations were “true” nonprofits or quasi-government organizations like the 278 Community Improvement District (CID).

District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said the Board in May 2021 approved a policy of limiting appropriations to $2,500 apiece to nonprofit organizations. But in August 2021, the Board also approved giving the nonprofits the same amount of funding they received the previous year, she said.

Sanders asked why the staff budgeted the $2,500 amounts this year for a group of outside organizations when the Board ultimately approved higher amounts in the 2022 budget.

“There needs to be an explanation on why you felt they’re not feeling an impact,” she told Sims.

She said she wanted to make clear that she was concerned because three organizations — Nelson Heights, Washington Street and McIntosh Trail Community Service Board — provide services to children while others given more than $2,500, like the 278 CID, were not.

“It looks kind of skeptical that only those three were targeted," Sanders said. “If we’re going to be fair across the board, (all organizations) need to be $2,500.”

Henderson asked where Sims — who was hired in March — got information about the nonprofits before including the reduced amounts for them in the budget.

"The only ones that I've seen that seem to be affected are those in the 'people of color' community," Henderson said.

He suggested Sims begin forming relationships with himself and other commissioners to help Sims learn what the funded nonprofits do, rather than relying on staff members for information.

"I think you work for all five of us and not just a majority of three," Henderson said. "I think there should be a working with all of us and maybe seeing our views."

Henderson has said he considers Commissioner Demond Mason, a Democrat who is Black, to be part of a majority bloc with the Board's two white Republican commissioners because Mason voted with them on some issues Henderson opposed.

Sims said he worked for all commissioners but would try to set up a meeting with Henderson. He noted he had tried to contact Henderson on occasion to meet with him but got no response.

Mason, who represents District 2, asked if county officials had spoken with any nonprofit agencies' leaders to determine if they were receiving enough money from other sources to justify decreasing their county appropriations. Sims and White agreed they had not done so.

District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said he believed any outside organizations receiving funding should provide documentation about how they planned to spend the money.

County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said the Board can alter its policy on nonprofits appropriations but “your staff can’t do that.”

“Your staff is still obligated to operate under the official policy created in May 2021 which is to limit the appropriations to $2,500 per nonprofit," he said. "If this board wants to do something differently this board can do so."

He said many organizations on the county's annual appropriations list receive partial funding from other government agencies and are not what "you typically contemplate when you think of" organizations registered as nonprofits for federal tax purposes.

McIntosh Trail, for example, receives funding from other government agencies, he said. The agency hosts the county's federally-funded Head Start program and a publicly funded pre-kindergarten program, according to its website.

Jaugstetter also noted that many local governments in Metro Atlanta provide annual appropriations to local nonprofits by giving a lump sum contribution to nonprofit agencies like United Way, which then distributes the money based on its own procedures.

"This may be the right time to start thinking about a new policy," he said.