Whitfield County commissioners to meet Tuesday, to vote to seek $400,000 housing grant

Jevin Jensen

Members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners are looking to keep people in their homes and keep those houses livable.

They are set to vote Tuesday to apply for a $400,000 Community Home Investment Program (CHIP) grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The grant can be used to rehabilitate owner-occupied homes for those who can't afford to fix them.

Commissioners meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Wink Theatre, 115 W. Crawford St. in Dalton.

Board Chairman Jevin Jensen said the county took action to demolish "19 abandoned and unsafe houses this past year, usually working with property owners but in some cases going through courts when necessary."

"The long-term strategy is to keep homes from getting into this condition," he said. "The CHIP grants will help seniors make repairs and stay in their homes while also allowing young families struggling to make ends meet to keep their homes safe for kids."

He said if the county receives the grant the county will likely work with the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., a nonprofit whose mission is to help people acquire and maintain safe housing, to make sure families qualify for assistance.

The commissioners are also scheduled to vote on whether to accept a bid from Rhonda Gilbert of Gilbert + Associates in Lawrenceville to write the grant application and to administer the grant if the county receives it. Gilbert would receive $3,500 to write the grant and $6,000 to administer the grant. The funds would come from the $20.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding the county is receiving.

"This CHIP grant is highly detailed and complex," said Jensen. "Our strategy is to increase the number of grants dramatically we apply for. We are growing our capability internally, so you will see us doing more and more applications ourselves in the future. Grant applications were formerly handled at the (Northwest Georgia) Regional Commission in Rome, but our volume exceeds their current delivery capacity. Grants won and funded without relying on local property taxes are a win-win for our citizens."

The commissioners are meeting on Tuesday because their normal Monday meeting time would conflict with the College Football Playoff National Championship game in which the University of Georgia will take on the University of Alabama.

The commissioners are also expected to vote on whether to use American Rescue Plan money to provide two $1,000 bonuses each to three deputy coroners.

"We considered them the last responders when, unfortunately, someone passed away from COVID(-19)," said Jensen. "They must deal with challenging situations and possible infections just like first responders do when going into victims' homes."

The deputy coroners received the first bonus on Dec. 31, and the county will use ARP money to reimburse itself. They will receive the second in February.

Commissioners are also scheduled to vote on a $17,200 agreement with Polco of Middleton, Wisconsin, to poll county residents on how they would like to see the county spend its ARP money.

"When I ran for office (in 2020) I committed to getting more input and engagement from our citizens," Jensen said. "One example back then was to do online surveys for essential topics. We did receive some feedback on the ARP funding and have not hesitated to move forward with those investments.

"The U.S. Treasury Department issued the final rules (on how ARP funds can be used) this week and we expect the final tranche in May of this year, so this will be the first use of the online survey. We expect to use it throughout 2022 on other vital topics for citizens to give us feedback."

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