COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners is meeting resistance from cities in its effort to obtain a deadline extension for approval of its updated Service Delivery Strategy. The county and cities stand to see millions of dollars in state financial resources suspended if no extension is approved.
The county has been working with its six municipalities since last summer to update the Service Delivery Strategy and related intergovernmental agreements. The SDS will determine how government services such as water, fire services, E-911 and others are provided. The intergovernmental agreements will dictate how much each government will pay for those services.
The county is asking the municipalities to agree to request an extension of the SDS deadline from June 30 to Oct. 31 to give them time to work through a couple of the more contentious issues and to be able to submit the agreement in time for the DCA to review it.
This would be the third extension the county has requested since the original due date of June 30, 2018. The current deadline is the end of this month, and even if the county and cities come to agreement on all the issues, it may already be too late. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs typically requires 30 days to review the plan.
It takes the county and 50 percent of the cities to request an extension. Newton commissioners unanimously approved a motion requesting the deadline extension at their meeting June 4. However, the cities of Covington and Newborn have voted against requesting an extension. Porterdale and Oxford officials have not voted on the measure but have indicated opposition. Porterdale will consider the request at a called meeting June 17. Mansfield City Council members tabled a vote on the extension Monday night with the expectation that they may be able to approve the SDS and related agreements at a called meeting June 17. Social Circle has not taken up the measure.
Some city leaders have said they will hold out on the extension request as a way to pressure the county to grant them a greater voice in some areas, particularly water resources.
Both County Attorney Megan Martin and County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the county stands to lose a significant amount of state money if the extension is not obtained. Kerr noted that the state is “in the season for grant renewals and for applications.”
“My understanding is that whatever grants we might have currently where we are getting reimbursements from the state for expenses, those reimbursements might be curtailed until we get back into compliance,” said Kerr. “It may prohibit us from being able to obtain grants during the application process.”
“I would impress upon each of you to reach out to your city colleagues to see what we can do to work together in a more cooperative and collaborative spirit,” Martin told commissioners.
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said it was unusual to have this much dissent between the county and the cities.
“I never have, in all the years I’ve sat here on this board, I’ve never known the mayors not to somewhat work with us or we work with them, and it saddens me because of the fact we are all in this together,” Henderson said. “There should be a common ground that we can work together. We shouldn’t have to even be thinking about losing millions of dollars in grant funding just because it seems like we won’t cooperate or we won’t work together. I believe the citizens want us to work together, all of us, for a common goal.”
Georgia’s Service Delivery Act helps prevent taxpayers from paying to receive the same services from multiple local governments. Without an approved SDS in place or an extension approved, the county and cities are in jeopardy of losing their Qualified Local Government status, which is one requirement for eligibility for access to a package of financial resources, including Community Development Block Grants, water and sewer loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, economic development funding from the OneGeorgia Authority, and other programs from DCA and partner agencies.
In addition, under Georgia law, state agencies are barred from providing permits as well as state funding and state-administered federal funding to governments that are not compliant with the Service Delivery Act.