Newton ineligible for state funding

COVINGTON -- Newton County and its municipalities are ineligible to receive state administered funding after the county missed this week's deadline to have a complete service delivery strategy verified by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The county's service delivery strategy expired on Feb. 28 and it was required to have an updated strategy submitted to and verified by DCA by 5 p.m. Monday. Mandated by state law, the strategy outlines what services governments provide, how they pay for them and in what areas of the county they are provided. It serves as an intergovernmental agreement between local governments to foster effective and efficient local services.

DCA Assistant Commissioner Mike Gleaton said he began receiving portions of Newton's service delivery strategy in electronic format at 11:04 a.m. Monday. Additional files followed at 4:18 p.m. and at 4:27 p.m. Several maps were not included in the files, Gleaton said. Those maps were not received by DCA until Wednesday, and in addition to being two days late, were illegible, he said. The maps had apparently been faxed from Newton County to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission after 5 p.m. on Monday and were then scanned and e-mailed to DCA by the RDC on Wednesday, Gleaton said.

"They were basically unreadable," he said.

"We have 30 days to review (the strategy) once we get it. They were really pushing the envelope getting it in late Monday afternoon when the absolute deadline was 5 p.m. Monday. They left us with little or no time to review it," Gleaton said.

As a result, Newton County and its municipalities have had eligibility revoked for state administered financial assistance, grants, loans and permits. That includes funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, the Department of Natural Resources and various other state agencies that administer state and federal funds.

Gleaton said DCA is now in possession of the maps and will review them as soon as possible. The county must wait until the first day of the month following DCA's verification of its strategic plan to regain eligibility, meaning eligibility could be restored April 1 at the earliest, Gleaton said.

"It's really unfortunate this happened. It sounds like we're being really bureaucratic, but we have to treat all counties and cities in Georgia the exact same. Newton County has never missed a deadline with us. I'm sorry they missed this one. Typically, they are a great county and great city to work with," Gleaton said.

John Middleton, the county's executive officer, said the maps in question were the fire district, gas and electric service areas and industrial and joint development authorities maps.

He said though approval of all municipalities is not required, it's best to show a united front when submitting the strategy to DCA. Porterdale was the last municipality to approve the strategy on Feb. 25. Middleton said he sent the signature page to DCA the next day and began sending the rest of the documents on Monday. The city of Social Circle has not approved the strategy due to concerns over the water and sewer service areas, he said.

"This does not affect our current funding. We can apply for but won't be awarded any grants during this time," Middleton said, adding that he knew of no grants applied for that are set to be awarded in March.

"We've done everything we can," to address the problem, he said, adding he's been assured DCA will give the document a fast review so Newton County can be eligible for funding by April.

According to DCA's Web site, a total of 36 cities and counties are not in compliance with the service delivery strategy law, including Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.