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Newton, Rockdale to receive millions in Rescue Plan funding
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COVINGTON — Newton and Rockdale counties stand to receive millions in federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Biden on March 11.

According to an analysis by the National Association of Counties (NACo), Newton County will receive an estimated $21,672,061 and Rockdale will receive $17,628,719. The funding is allocated based on population.

The relief bill includes $8.1 billion for Georgia. The state will receive $4.6 billion of that directly, while the rest is earmarked for local governments. Local governments will receive the funding in two equal transfers, with the first paid no later than 60 days from the day the bill was enacted. All of the funding must be spent by the end of 2024.

Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr said Monday county officials have not yet had an opportunity to discuss how this round of recovery funding will be used. Funding previously received by the county under the CARES Act was mostly used to pay wages and overtime for public safety personnel and to pay for COVID-19-related expenses.

“First, I think we really need to get an understanding of what we can spend the money on,” said Kerr. “The general feeling is that this is not quite as restrictive as the first CARES Act funding that we received.”

Kerr said the county will have more time to analyze the appropriate uses of the funds compared to the first round of CARES Act funding, when counties had a matter of weeks to determine how to spend the money.

“We want to make sure that everything we submit back to the Treasury Department is an eligible expense,” he said.

According to NACo, the Rescue Plan funding for counties can be used for the following purposes:

♦ To respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality

♦ To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work. Premium pay is defined as an additional amount up to $13 per hour that is paid to an eligible worker for work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill imposes a cap of $25,000 for any single eligible worker.

♦ To restore a shortfall in revenues as a result of the public health emergency as compared to revenues collected in the most recent full ♦ fiscal year prior to the emergency.

♦ To make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Kerr said Newton County has not seen a shortfall in revenue collections during the past year.

“I think we may have dipped in one month where we were 2% below collections from the previous year,” he said. “… every other month we have exceeded our collections over the prior year.”

Local governments will be required to provide periodic reports providing a detailed accounting of the use of funds. If a state, county or municipality does not comply with any provision of the bill, they will be required to repay the U.S. Treasury an amount equal to the funds that were improperly spent.

Newton opens new park on Dinah Pace Circle
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Rockdale Planning Commission balks at third request to change zoning from commercial to residential
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CONYERS — A future land use map amendment and rezoning request for a townhome project on Old Salem Road was unanimously recommended for denial on March 11, not because of problems with the project, but because the Rockdale County Planning Commission is concerned about so many commercial and industrial zoned properties being switched to residential.

Since the beginning of 2021, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners has approved two townhome projects totaling 404 multi-family homes. Both required amendments to the future land use map to change the properties from industrial or commercial to residential.

The Planning Commission said enough is enough at their meeting last week with a request to develop up to 105 townhomes on 13.02 acres of wooded land on the east side of Old Salem Road, just south of Salem Gate Way and near the Salem Gate Plaza shopping development. The request needed a change in the future land use plan for the property, which is currently zoned C2 (general commercial), but would need to be RM (multi-family).

Other than some discussion about the amount of green space in the project, the commission has no problems with the development itself, which would feature two-story townhomes with two-car garages, some front loading and some back loading, sidewalks along Old Salem Road, and amenities including a dog park. And no one spoke in opposition to the development during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

But commission member Ernestine Stovall-Goolsby questioned the continued change from commercial and industrial zoned sites to residential.

“I’ve noticed that the commercial is not being developed and this is our second or third townhouse application for a change from commercial to high density... I just don’t see anything where Conyers is actually going for industry jobs,” Stovall-Goolsby said. “We are over-saturating the market with these townhomes, and that concerns me.”

Planning and Zoning staff member Connor Barr noted that plans coming into the county offices are determined by market demand.

“At this time, we receive lots and lots of interest in developing more and more residential properties,” Barr said. “That is associated with existing market demand. At this time, we simply do not receive that much interest from developers wishing to bring in the higher skilled commercial and industrial opportunities.”

Commission member Muddessar Ahmad noted that with a limited amount of land available, the county needs to be very focused on how that land is used.

“The tax digest is based on how we are utilizing our land,” he said. “If we keep adding more residential to previously commercial property, then unfortunately the tax burden will go on the residents. It will not be on the businesses. Already, 67% of the digest is based on residents. I don’t know what vision we are heading towards.”

Commission Chair Steve Weinstein stated the county has a comprehensive land use plan and suggested redoing it as a whole, rather than by separate amendments.

“We have a comprehensive land use plan. If you want to change it, change it, but this haphazard putting things in where they are not designated to go is a very dangerous thing to be doing, because then you’re doing away with any sensible planning,” Weinstein said. “This is a very nice, very well developed townhome community, but do we want to keep changing the land use plan, do we want to keep moving commercial and industrial out and putting high-density residential in? Change the comprehensive land use plan, then we can consider all these things. But don’t keep putting willy-nilly townhomes or whatever in places where they’re not designated to go.”

The other commission members agreed, with Tawanna Smith-Fenty saying they need to stick with the plan they have.

“I think a lot of time we’re looking for short-term solutions for a long-term problem,” she said. “When we don’t get exactly what we’re looking for, we say we’ll substitute it with this as opposed to sticking to our plan. Sometimes plans don’t always go as you would like or not as speedy as you like, but you don’t get rid of the plan, you stick with it. Our comprehensive plan was made for a reason.”

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend denial of both the future land use map amendment and the zoning request for the Old Salem Road townhouse development. The Board of Commissioners will have a public hearing on the request and a final vote at an upcoming meeting.

Special week honors Georgia school boards

CONYERS – Rockdale County Public Schools is joining in a statewide celebration this week to salute the efforts of local school board members. The week of March 15-19 has been proclaimed School Board Appreciation Week in Georgia. The week-long observance calls attention to the contributions of local boards of education.

“We appreciate the hard work and dedication of all members of our Board of Education,” said Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts. “This award-winning board has earned the Georgia School Boards Association’s Exemplary Board designation for each eligible year, a total of five times, and has won the Leading Edge Award for the past two consecutive years. Our board members are engaged in the community and regularly attend school and district events and activities throughout the year. During this past year, our Board of Education has provided the necessary support and resources to operate during an unprecedented pandemic and public health crisis. We have continued teaching and learning in a remote learning environment; we have distributed over 2 million meals to students while learning remotely; and we have maintained normal work calendars for all staff. We are truly thankful for their efforts to keep RCPS a great place to go to school and a great place to work.”

Board members are elected and represent a commitment to local control and decision-making in education.

The men and women serving the school district and their years of service are:

♦ Mandy North, chair, eight years

♦ Pamela J. Brown, vice chair, four years

♦ Wales Barksdale, 16 years

♦ Heather Duncan, four years

♦ Sandra Jackson-Lett, two years

♦ Jim McBrayer, eight years

♦ Akita Parmer, three montths

As constitutional officers of Georgia, school board members are responsible for setting educational policies, employing school personnel, providing buildings and equipment, operating a transportation system and disbursing school funds. As community leaders, school board members serve as advocates for the children in local public schools and must study, evaluate and decide what actions are in the best interest of those students.

The Georgia School Boards Association sponsors the celebration. The mission of GSBA is to ensure excellence in the governance of local school systems by providing leadership, advocacy and services, and by representing the collective resolve of Georgia’s 180 elected boards of education. Please visit www.gsba.com for more information.