Nelson Says “No” to Grant Money

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In an unprecedented move, The Nelson City Council voted to reject a $10,000 state grant this week. During its first meeting of the new year, council voted 3-2 against accepting the Local Maintenance Improvement Grant (LMIG), a state grant designated for transportation projects and funded by taxpayers via Georgia’s gas tax. The $10,000 grant requires the city to match $3,000, a penalty for regions that voted against last summer’s TPSLOST referendum. According to the TPSLOST legislation, called the Transportation Investment Act, regions that voted against the referendum were hit with a higher matching rate on state grants. Prior to the referendum, cities and counties were obligated to a 10 percent matching component for state grants. This percentage still applies to the regions that voted for TSPLOST. For all other regions, however, the percentage increased to 30 percent. As such, Nelson would only receive $7,000.

The decision to reject the money, though, was part pragmatic and part principle. The pragmatic part is that council has already missed the January first deadline. City Manager Brandy Edwards suggested that, although the city missed the deadline it could still receive the money. According to Edwards, a requirement to receive the money is a list of capital projects to be funded by the grant, a list Nelson has not compiled.

Conversely, the other argument for the rejection is based on principle. The money is earmarked specifically for transportation projects, such as roads. Council Member Edith Portillo, however, reiterated that the city already has money for transportation projects, citing an approximate $400,000 balance in the city’s SPLOST fund. Portillo was firm on unnecessary spending.

“It’s something we have to take a stance on eventually,”

she said,

“because we’re going in a really wrong path.”

Conversely though, newly elected Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member Jonathan Bishop said the city can always use money. Although agreeing with the principle of avoiding unnecessarily taking grant money, Bishop noted all cities operate on tax payer money. Further, Mayor Mike Haviland added that the rejection would set a precedent, where council would have to honor the principle of not accepting any tax-payer money from here on out.

“My whole contention with this”

Council Member Duane Cronic said,

“is we don’t know where we’re going to spend this money…We don’t have a plan to spend it,”

referring to the project list required by the grant.

In his motion to reject the money, Cronic questioned why the city was suddenly interested in improving its roads and streets when it’s presented with $10,000. He went on to explain that the city currently has approximately $400,000 in its SPLOST fund, which in part can be used for road projects, adding that Nelson is expected to receive a projected $720,000 in SPLOST funds over the next six years.

During the discussion, Councilman Bishop asked Edwards if it was financially sound to reject the grant. Edwards said she did not have enough information for that assessment. She added that not having the money wouldn’t hurt the city, but having it would help.

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