JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Johns Creek will turn over administration of the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to Fulton County, but the city does not cede control of the projects that are approved for Johns Creek.
CDBG grants are federal dollars issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address a wide range of community development needs. The CDBG program was started by President Ronald Reagan as a way to pass decision making to the communities and counties.
City Manager Warren Hutmacher introduced a cooperative agreement with Fulton County at the July 28 City Council work session that would turn over the administration of the CDBG program to Fulton County staff, which has more expertise with the program.
“This would put the city’s CDGB funds with Fulton County’s, but Johns Creek would still retain control over what is done with the funds in the city. However, Fulton County’s staff is far more conversant with the various programs that qualify under the CDGB program,” Hutmacher said.
“Fulton County has deep and expert experience in what HUD allows.”
Hutmacher noted the other North Fulton cities already operate under a cooperative agreement with Fulton County to supervise the program. For instance, Fulton County will now conduct the public hearings.
The city would continue to direct where the funds are spent in Johns Creek, but the reliance on the expertise of Fulton County frees up city staff to do other things as well, he said.
The only caveat to the transfer is that Fulton County could veto a suggested CDBG project if the county decided it did not meet CDBG guidelines.
“That is because the county is assuming the liability to HUD if it spends the dollars and turns out the project did not qualify,” Hutmacher said.
The upside is the city could qualify for HUD-approved programs such as rehabilitating distressed property if it would raise the values of surrounding properties.
Mike Rowicki, deputy director of Fulton County Human Services, confirmed the program.
“It is possible to get money to rehab property of low- to moderate-income owners such as fixing the roof, replacing air conditioning or making it ADA accessible,” Rowicki said. “There are homeless service programs that can provide assistance as well.”
All of these programs are income-driven, and there is a maze of rules and regulations to negotiate, but that is what Fulton County can do, Rowicki said.
“We have the knowledge, we know what can be done and what cannot,” he said.
One councilmember said he had received constituent concerns that relinquishing the responsibility to Fulton County could open up Johns Creek to more social programs such as Section 8 housing that provides rent subsidies to low-income qualifiers in the city.
Hutmacher said that is not the case.
“It is a red herring that the city would give up any control over what kinds of programs are implemented. No program can be forced on the city that it does not want,” Hutmacher said. “The idea behind the CDBG program is to give the community more flexibility and control over the dollars that flow to it.
“Fulton County will do the accounting, auditing and management of the funds. The city retains the direction of the use of the funds,” he said.
While there had been a desire expressed to return all or a portion of unused CDBG funds to the federal government to reduce the national deficit, Hutmacher said the system does not provide for that. Funds returned by a city or county would revert to the state for disbursement.
Councilman Lenny Zaprowski, who had earlier voted to return city CDBG funds, said he sees the wisdom of letting the program be managed by Fulton County.
“I have seen real-life situations in the city where [CDBG funds] made a difference. When you see [the effect] close up, it is hard not to support it,” Zaprowski said.
Mayor Mike Bodker said he has seen entitlement programs that were “a disappointment and ill-conceived.” But he said the CDBG program is not one of those.
“This is a better path for us today,” Bodker said. “This will open doors for us for more projects that will return tax dollars to Johns Creek.”
New Councilman Steve Broadbent called the latest brouhaha over whether to accept CDBG dollars as “window dressing.”
“There are more effective ways to lobby our government to cut spending [than returning CDBG funds],” he said.
The City Council voted 7-0 to sign the cooperative agreement relinquishing administrative control of the program to Fulton County.