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Commissioners agree to apply for grant if needed right-of-way is donated

After a round-robin session Thursday morning, the Grady County Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead to proceed with applying for another Community Development Block Grant providing all of the rights-of-way necessary for the project are donated.
Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar took county commissioners on a field trip to tour Johnson Road, Pine Lakes Drive and Pine Hill Lakes Drive last Tuesday, March 1. Tobar recommended applying for the CDBG to pave the county road and two private drives.
According to Tobar, without including the residents of Pine Lakes Drive and Pine Hill Lakes Drive with those on Johnson Road, the county would not qualify for the grant of up to $500,000.
The administrator spent most of that Tuesday afternoon going door to door in the area to gauge the support of the project.
On Thursday, March 3, commissioners met to discuss the project. Tobar said the initial estimates for the construction would be over $600,000, which would exceed the $500,000 grant so the administrator recommended splitting the project into two phases.
Tobar suggested paving a portion of Johnson Road and Pine Lakes Drive in the first phase and then pave Pine Hill Lakes Drive and the remainder of Johnson Road in a second phase. The project boils down to two miles of paving to be done one mile at a time, according to the county administrator.
“That will tick people off by splitting it up,” Commissioner Ray Prince warned.
Tobar said splitting the project into two was the only way to finance the project without having to invest county funds from either the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant from the state or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.
Grady County attorney Kevin S. Cauley reminded commissioners that just like with the Lewis Estates CDBG project, the property owners would have to be offered fair market value for the rights-of-way as part of the grant process.
“Wasn’t there $10,000 in the Lewis Estates CDBG for right-of-way acquisition?” Commission Chairman Charles Norton asked.
“I think we will exceed that with this one,” Commissioner Prince predicted.
Prince also said any money the property owners might be offered for right-of-way would be accepted rather than donating the property.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland asked if the county could inform the residents of the county’s plan to pave the road, but only if the right-of-way is donated. Cauley cautioned the board that they could not threaten the residents.
Tobar suggested that the county seek donations before the grant is awarded, but then said if the grant is not approved the county would then be responsible for maintaining the private drives.
“You are suggesting we take responsibility for a road we don’t have to do anything with. It’s not costing the county a penny right now,” Commissioner Prince said referring to the private drives.
Administrator Tobar said if the board had “uncertainty” they could wait and see the estimated costs before submitting the grant application, which is due April 1.
“I just don’t see how you can do it without using SPLOST or something else,” Chairman Norton said.
Commissioners took part in a brief impromptu conference call with grant administrator Bob Roberson. The grant writer said the county could obtain letters from the developer or the property owners stipulating he/she would turn over the necessary right-of-way to the county subject to the grant being received. “That way you don’t take ownership unless you have the means to improve the road,” Roberson said.
Roberson said the county would also have to have a minimum of $10,000 cash in the project. The majority of the county’s match would be in in-kind labor with the county road department doing all of the clearing and grubbing for the paving of the private drives, which are in poor condition.
Chairman Norton reminded his fellow commissioners the county already has paved roads that need resurfacing and repairs.
“I just can’t see taking over a road we don’t have to do anything with now. This will be money coming out of the taxpayers’ pocket,” Commissioner Prince said.
Just as it seemed the board would decide against applying for the grant, Commissioner Prince said he would support the grant application if all of the right-of-way was donated.
Commissioners stood firm on proceeding with the project only if the rights-of-way can be obtained through donations.
Chairman Norton also said it should be made clear the county would not accept the donated right-of-way unless the grant is approved.
Tobar said this project is unlike the Lewis Estate grant project.  “The assumption this time is that we don’t own any of the necessary right-of-way. The problem with Lewis Estates is that we assumed we did own the right-of-way and as it ended up we didn’t own it,” Tobar said.
“We need to find out about the land before we get the grant or otherwise we will end up with the road and no help,” Commissioner Prince said.
During Thursday’s called meeting, commissioners also questioned how many engineering firms had expressed interest in the Johnson Road grant project. According to Tobar, four firms submitted proposals but the proposal from Watkins and Associates was deemed the best. Chairman Norton asked how the engineering firms were graded.
Tobar said that he and two college students, Madison Brock and Maura Butler, who are working in the registrar’s office had graded the proposals submitted by the four engineering firms as well as the proposals from potential grant administrators.
“Did they know what they were doing to score them?” Commissioner T.D. David asked. Tobar responded, “it’s pretty simple.”
“We don’t want it done like this again,” Norton told the county administrator.
Norton then asked what would be the fee paid to Watkins & Associates and Tobar said it would be 8.5 percent of the total grant award. The administrator said that neither Watkins & Associates nor Bob Roberson & Associates would be paid unless the grant is approved.
On Tuesday, Tobar reported that he had received the contracts from Watkins & Associates and Bob Roberson and Associates that must be signed by Chairman Norton.
Once the contracts are signed, Tobar said he would “get together as a team – Kevin (Cauley), Stacy (Watkins), Bob (Roberson) and me to figure out a strategy and come up with a plan regarding the needed right-of-way. We will come up with a plan to make it happen and if we can’t then we don’t have a project.”

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