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County misses DCA deadline

COVINGTON -- For the second time this year, Newton County has missed a deadline to have documents turned in to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and will temporarily be ineligible to receive state funding.

This time the document in question is the county's Capital Improvements Element, a required document for local governments that impose impact development fees. According to Renetta Hobson, coordinator for DCA's CIE program, the deadline to have the CIE submitted, approved and adopted was June 30.

Newton County submitted its CIE on June 24 and it was approved by DCA on June 28. However, by law, the county must have a 60-day wait period after submitting the CIE before it can adopt the plan on the local level. The earliest the county could adopt the plan under those guidelines is Aug. 23, nearly two months after the deadline, Hobson said. Once the 60-day window has passed and the county has adopted the CIE and notified DCA, eligibility will be reinstated immediately, she said.

DCA has up to 30 days to do its review, but has adopted a streamlined process that takes between five and seven days, Hobson said.

"We met our internal obligation to get that done ... Local governments are informed of deadlines well in advance. Maybe it was an administrative oversight with the local government. I don't know," she said.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said the missed deadline was the result of the loss of an employee who previously handled that responsibility. The impact fee coordinator left the county last year and while the deadline of June 30 was on her calendar, county officials and the new person charged with her job were not aware that date was to include the 60-day window, Morgan said.

The county reports to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which gives its approval of the CIE and it is then sent on to DCA for approval. Morgan said the regional commission never mentioned the 60-day requirement, and based on instructions from staff members there, county officials thought they were in compliance.

"It was an honest mistake," Morgan said, adding that layoffs of experienced employees is partly to blame. "This is one of those things that happens when someone leaves that we count on for that institutional knowledge."

She said she has implemented a calendar system in which deadlines for all contracts and compliance are noted.

"We learned our lesson, and we won't be repeating it," she said.

Hobson said the missed deadline means Newton County is ineligible to receive funds from the majority of programs administered through DCA, as well as funds administered through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Morgan said the county had not expected to receive any of those funds during the time it will be out of compliance and no projects will be affected..

In March, the county missed the deadline to turn in its service delivery strategy to DCA. The county and its municipalities were ineligible for state administered financial assistance, grants, loans and permits, but eligibility was restored April 1.