More than 50 city and county officials from across Northwest Georgia were in Rome on Tuesday for an informational session on state and federal services sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves.
The Ranger Republican said he plans to make Local Government Services Day an annual event.
“You want to better help and assist your communities and we want to help you do that,” Graves told the crowd.
His office assembled representatives from a range of agencies at Georgia Highlands College’s Heritage Hall. Each presented an overview of programs they offer, then handed out information and answered questions at their booths set up around the room.
Sandra Lindsey, director of the Cave Spring Downtown Development Authority, headed over to speak with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs representative about the relatively new Rural Zone program.
Available to communities of under 15,000 people with buildings that are more than 50 years old, the Rural Zone designation provides tax credits to new businesses for job creation, investment and building rehabilitation. Cave Spring’s population is about 1,140, and most of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There is not one Rural Zone community in (this region) yet,” DCA representative John VanBrunt said.
Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said there was a wealth of useful information on tap. New to him was a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that awards grants of up to $7,500 to low-income seniors in rural communities to repair their homes.
“You can do a lot of work for $7,500,” Winters said.
Hafiz Grier of Georgia Power spoke about the company’s energy assistance program for seniors, low-income and special needs customers. Isaac Roberts of the USDA noted that the agency known for farm aid has a number of programs aimed at “economic development in rural America.”
The federal General Services Administration does “a little bit of everything,” said Chastity Ash, who went on to tell about equipment giveaways.
When federal agencies replace equipment, she said, they first offer it to other federal agencies. What’s left is offered through the surplus program to state and local governments, then to nonprofits and, lastly, put up for auction. The Computers for Learning program also makes used computers available to nonprofits and schools, Ash said.
Other presenters included Noah Golding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Amanda Carroll of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
Carroll noted that the federal Appalachian Regional Commission has grant programs for infrastructure improvements in Northwest and Northeast Georgia counties, but they typically require a local match. In addition to its own grant and loan programs, GEFA can provide the match.
“The Dallas wastewater treatment plant got $600,000 from the ARC and, as you can imagine, the match is a lot of money for a small city,” Carroll said. “We gave them the money for that.”
Floyd County Commission Chair Scotty Hancock said the county is already taking advantage of most of the programs it’s eligible for. However, he said the Local Government Services Day is a valuable opportunity to stay abreast of new initiatives and network with other officials.