County responds to Henderson claims

J.C. Henderson

J.C. Henderson

COVINGTON -- Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan has submitted a letter to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in response to Commissioner J.C. Henderson's claims that the county has a double standard when it comes to community projects and his request that federal funding be withheld until proven otherwise.

Last month, Henderson wrote to the DCA alleging that his district was being treated unfairly by not being allowed to manage or give input into the new Nelson Heights Community Center. Henderson raised numerous concerns about another ongoing project, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in Fairview Estates, stating there is a double standard in how the county is handling that project versus the community center. He also requested that all federal funding be cut off from Newton County until officials can disprove those claims.

The DCA required the county to respond to Henderson's claims within 30 days.

In a letter dated Dec. 9, Morgan stated there is no double standard and Henderson has not raised any concerns that justify withholding federal grants.

"Newton County and various agencies in the county utilize federal grants to supplement their budgets. In the current economic climate, these grants are needed now more than ever," Morgan's letter stated. "These agencies must obtain approval from the Board of Commissioners before filing grant applications. Therefore, Commissioner Henderson's letter jeopardizes not only the county's access to federal grants, but also access to grants by these other agencies."

Among Henderson's allegations were that the people of Fairview Estates have not been adequately informed of what is happening in their neighborhood -- the county will fund an amenities area in the neighborhood, including a swimming pool and clubhouse -- and that the NSP money could be used to pay for a homeowner's association. Henderson also questioned how much taxpayers will have to pay to maintain a planned park/greenspace in the subdivision.

In her response, Morgan stated that no NSP funds will be used to establish a homeowner's association, although IECDG, the nonprofit organization administering the program, will assist residents in creating the association. No NSP or county funds will be used to build or maintain an amenities area for the neighborhood; the homeowners association will own, pay for and maintain the area, she said.

Aside from in-kind services from the public works department for grading and other work, all expenses of the park will be covered by NSP funds, she said. The Recreation Commission will maintain the park.

Morgan said residents of Fairview Estates have a good understanding of how the program is working due to numerous public meetings.

"We believe this project cannot be successful without input and participation from the community. Any commitments beyond the scope of the NSP program have been made by IECDG as part of their mission as a nonprofit organization and not by the Board of Commissioners," Morgan said.

When contacted Tuesday, Henderson said he had not seen the letter, but added that it doesn't appear to address his concerns about the cost of maintaining the park.

"You can call it 'in-kind service' but it's going to have a price attached to it, I don't care what you do ... The community needs to know up front at the end of the day what they're going to have to pay out," he said.

Construction of the Nelson Heights Community Center, which has yet to open its doors, was funded through the special purpose local option sales tax. According to some officials, the intent was for it to serve as a public meeting place, similar to the Almon and Mansfield community centers. However, Henderson has promised the community activities such as an after school tutorial program. He formed a nonprofit corporation, on which he serves as director, to run the facility without board approval.

Henderson has claimed that there is a double standard because residents in District 3 are being allowed input into the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the community also has input and involvement in running Gaither Plantation, in District 1, through the Friends of Gaither Committee.

Morgan said it is one of the functions of the Board of Commissioners to determine how county buildings and properties will be managed.

At Gaither, a county employee lives on the grounds and serves as caretaker for more than 1,800 acres. Friends of Gaither is a volunteer committee with members countywide who raise funds to help defray maintenance costs. In Fairview Estates, the park will be managed by the Recreation Commission and not the community, Morgan said.

"I fail to see how the Board of Commissioners' decisions on the management of its various properties establishes a double standard of any kind," she said.

A representative with DCA could not be reached for comment.