Fayette Commission says no to local charities seeking part of $22 million federal grant

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Fayette County Commissioner Charles Rousseau (L) and County Administrator Steve Rapson discuss agenda item before the regular meeting May 13. Photo/Cal Beverly.
Fayette County Commissioner Charles Rousseau (L) and County Administrator Steve Rapson discuss agenda item before the regular meeting May 13. Photo/Cal Beverly.

County to use one-time windfall for “smart” water meters, new health department building, training facilities for first responders — 

<b>Fayette Commissioner Eric Maxwell at May 13 meeting. Photo/Cal Beverly.</b>
Fayette Commissioner Eric Maxwell at May 13 meeting. Photo/Cal Beverly.

Two groups of residents tried to persuade the Fayette County Commission Thursday night to delay a vote on how to spend $22 million in federal Covid-relief funds. Both groups were unsuccessful.

A who’s who of Fayette County’s charities Thursday night sought to change the county commission’s policy of never donating tax money to a non-profit. Despite their pleas, the answer remained, “No.”

Other residents wanted the commissioners to increase their “due diligence” before converting all the county’s water meters to new “smart” meters that may be vulnerable to hacking, similar to the Colonial Pipeline drama playing out in widespread gasoline shortages across southern states this week.

The county officials said they knew what they were doing and declined the request to have more public input before making the change.

The vote was 4 to 1 against using any part of a one-time federal grant of $22 million to be dispersed by the commission to help the Covid-battered organizations recoup funding lost because of pandemic restrictions.

Instead, the board plans to use $9 million of the grant to convert 32,000 water meters to “smart” meters that report wirelessly twice a day to the county water department. The idea is to better track actual water use and bill for the extra gallons being used now but not paid for because of the inefficiency of the last generation meters.

The county system supplies water to Peachtree City, Tyrone, and Brooks as well as unincorporated areas. Fayetteville operates a separate system for its water customers.

<b>Fayette Commissioner Charles Rousseau speaks at the May 13 County Commission meeting. Photo/Cal Beverly.</b>
Fayette Commissioner Charles Rousseau speaks at the May 13 County Commission meeting. Photo/Cal Beverly.

In comments after the votes, Commissioner Charles Rousseau decried the decision against the charities.

“We missed a golden opportunity to meet public expectations” in the wake of pandemic economic damage to many families, Rousseau said. “It was a unique opportunity to show some balance” in dealing with the “human needs.”

“We fall very short,” Rousseau said of turning away all requests for help from the local nonprofits.

Commissioner Eric Maxwell said his position against funding charities was not intended to to be callous or “mean-spirited.” He noted that he was a “bricks and mortar guy,” preferring to spend the federal grant on facilities like the new health department building to be constructed near the county Justice Center.

“I haven’t struggled with this vote,” Maxwell said. “I consider it money well-spent.”