DCA: County compliant on program

COVINGTON -- The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has found that Newton County is operating within the regulations of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program after reviewing a response by the county addressing allegations of mismanagement made by Commissioner J.C. Henderson.

In his November letter to DCA, Henderson alleged the public facility portion of the NSP award, where a park will be developed, would be held as private property, and the facility would not be accessible to all Newton County residents. He also claimed the county might use NSP funds to form a homeowner's association for the neighborhood.

He asked that federal funding be withheld from Newton County until those concerns could be addressed and it could be proven that the county does not operate under a double standard when it comes to community projects.

In a December response to DCA, Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan stated that the property will be open and accessible to all residents and remain in public ownership for a minimum of 20 years. NSP funds will be spent only on eligible NSP activities, she said.

"DCA has absolutely no role in a number of things (Henderson) talked about. What our concern is with is the federal dollars that are going for the NSP award," said Glenn Misner, director of DCA's Office of Field Services. "We asked the county to respond to those allegations regarding the award and they did that. They assured us it's going to be a public facility, open to the public, as is required. They basically allayed our concerns that they are operating within the regulations for the NSP program."

Misner sent Henderson and Morgan a letter dated Jan. 18 explaining DCA's position.

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 homeowners 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 non-profit 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.

Henderson also alleged that residents in District 4 were being treated unfairly by not being allowed to manage or give input into the new Nelson Heights Community Center. He said there is a double standard in how the county is handling that project versus the NSP, where residents of District 3 are being allowed input into the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The community also has input and involvement in running Gaither Plantation, in District 1, through the Friends of Gaither Committee, he said.

Morgan said it is one of the functions of the Board of Commissioners to determine how county buildings and properties will be managed. She said Henderson formed a 501(c)3 to run the community center without board approval.

"We have absolutely no comment on any of those other concerns. That's a completely local matter," Misner said.