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Project county backed away from last year is reconsidered

Just over 10 months ago, Grady County commissioners backed away from pursuing grant funding to pave some private drives in south Grady County, but last week the idea was revived by County Administrator Carlos Tobar.
Tobar invited grant writer Bob Roberson of Moultrie to attend the commission meeting last week to discuss Community Development Block Grants.
Roberson explained that approximately $28 million is appropriated by the federal government to Georgia annually and then allocated to local government through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. According to the grant writer, 65 to 68 out of 125 to 150 applications are funded.
Roberson said the maximum grant is now $750,000, up from $500,000.
He said that counties typically apply for grants to fund construction of senior citizens centers, health departments, and mental health facilities, but after that they begin to apply for street and drainage improvement projects.
Tobar had been researching the possibility of applying for a CDBG to finance improvements on Harper Road, but that project stalled after commissioners learned that not all Harper Road property owners and residents had been surveyed as Tobar had previously stated. It was also later determined that the Harper Road neighborhood did not have the required level of population density of low to moderate income households.
There had been no public discussion of the proposed Harper Road project since late last year or any discussion to shift the focus to another project.
Based on comments made at last Tuesday’s meeting, Tobar has shifted from Harper Road and renewed his push to pave Johnson Road, Pine Lakes Drive and Pine Hill Lakes Drive. While Johnson Road is a public road, the two drives are private.
A majority of the county commission told The Messenger last week that they were not made aware of exactly why Roberson was coming to the Jan. 17 commission meeting.
Prior to last Tuesday night’s meeting, Chairman Elwyn Childs said he assumed Roberson was coming to discuss the proposed round about at the intersection of Airport Road and GA Hwy. 188 North.
However, Roberson was invited to discuss and answer questions about the Johnson Road, Pine Lakes Drive and Pine Hill Lakes Drive project commissioners had pulled away from last March.
The majority of commissioners also say they were unaware there had been any talk of revisiting the project until it was discussed by Roberson last Tuesday night.
“It was the first I had heard of it. I asked where they were on Harper Road and had been told there were not enough houses on it,” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland said last Tuesday night after the meeting.
Newly elected Commissioner Keith Moye said Tobar had asked him to go inspect the roads so he “assumed” they were now looking at Johnson Road, but he was not made aware that the board had previously contemplated the project last year and decided against it.
Chairman Childs also admitted last Tuesday night following the commission meeting that he did not remember the same project had been discussed last March.
It was Tobar, who last year recommended against applying for the CDBG for the Johnson Road project due to concerns related to acquisition of the necessary rights-of-way for the project. The county administrator at the time said that if rights-of-way acquisition prevented the county from accepting the grant the county would be obligated to pay Roberson $10,000.
At the March 15, 2016 commission meeting, rather than taking that risk, Tobar suggested waiting to apply for the grant in 2017 and work to acquire the necessary rights-of-way during 2016. None of that work has been done and county commissioners say they were unaware the project was even being reconsidered until last week.
“I haven’t been privy to any talks regarding this. But something righted itself. Sorry, but I should be able to find the basis for the change of heart and mind,” Commissioner T.D. David said last week.
Vice Chairman Ray Prince, who seemed to be the most informed commissioner about the project, said the biggest difference from last year is the maximum grant is up to $750,000.
“That’s the biggest factor I see,” Prince said.
Last March when the project was being discussed, Tobar’s plan was to include the private drives with Johnson Road in order to meet the required population density. Otherwise, there were not enough homes on Johnson Road alone to qualify, according to Tobar.
The county administrator was also recommending last year to split the project into phases and pave 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 the second phase.
Tobar estimated the construction cost at over $600,000 and that was why he had recommended splitting the project into two phases since it exceeded the $500,000 grant.
Vice Chairman Prince said last Wednesday that issues regarding the acquisition of necessary rights-of-way must be resolved before he would vote to proceed with the project.
Last March, Prince had voiced his opposition to taking on the additional responsibility of maintaining roads the county does not currently have any obligation to maintain.
“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 last March while referring to the private drives.
However, now Prince says that if all of the right-of-way is donated and the grant pays for all of the improvements, the cost of maintaining the additional roads would be minimal for the next several years.
He said there are probably no other roads in any worse condition than Pine Lakes Drive and Pine Hill Lakes Drive.
“If an ambulance or fire truck had to get back there now as wet as it is those folks would just be out of luck,” Prince said last Wednesday.
Commissioner David asked Tobar at last week’s meeting if the residents of the two private drives knew what the county was proposing and if they wanted the work done.
“Yes, they have expressed interest,” Tobar said. The county administrator said that county department heads including the heads of the road department and emergency medical service had also requested Tobar seek authorization to pursue the project.
Roberson told commissioners that in his opinion the county had a good chance of the project being funded. Chairman Childs asked if a grant to extend water and sewer from Cairo to Tired Creek Lake would be a project that could be funded instead.
Roberson said the issue with that project would be meeting the population density requirements and the benefit to low and moderate income households.
“Technically they are eligible, but I’ve never seen one funded,” Roberson said.
Tobar asked if the county was willing to acquire the rights-of-way necessary for the project if the property owners do not donate it.
“How much would have to come out of the general fund?” Chairman Childs asked.
Tobar said any money for the project in excess of the grant would come out of Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant funds from the Georgia Department of Transportation and not the general fund.
“Go for it and we can back out if it ends up costing too much,” Childs said.
Silent was the voice of caution from former commissioner Charles Norton. Norton did not seek reelection and left the board Dec. 31. Last March, he voiced his concerns about paving the two private drives.
Norton said at the March 2016 meetings held to discuss the proposed project that the county already had paved roads that needed resurfacing and repairs. He said he did not believe the county could fund the proposed project entirely with the grant and that additional money that could be used on other roads would have to be spent on the paving of the two private drives.
The former commissioner told The Messenger this week that in 1997 the county had offered property owners the opportunity to bring all private drives up to DOT standards and the county would assume maintenance of them, but very few took advantage of the offer.
When contacted by The Messenger this week Norton said the board would be “opening a can of worms” taking responsibility for the two private drives. “But it doesn’t matter what I think because I’m no longer a member of the board,” Norton summarized.
“I think we made it very clear we would not move forward with anything until the right-of-way is lined up and our attorney has signed off on it,” Vice Chairman Prince said last Wednesday.
The county is facing an April 1 deadline to make application for the CDBG. Roberson said it would be late August to mid-September before the county would learn if the application was approved.

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