Commission hears budget comments, votes to see concept on eviction relief

May 19, 2021

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners met for nearly six hours last night, and heard from more than 20 citizens as part of the public input process for next year’s budget. Many of the comments focused on issues that have been consistent concerns for local policymakers – economic equity, affordable housing, and non-profit funding.

Fred Smith, Executive Director of the East Athens Development Corporation gave credit to commissioners for casting a wide net in providing funding for non-profit organizations, but urged them to do more in that area, and to spend more time talking with the community. “You can call this community input, and it is,” Smith said. “But there’s something else, another something called community engagement. So I would hope that we could have more conversation about what the community thinks and believes and have some two-way exchange about what the best way to move forward [is].”

After the public input session, Commissioners moved into a special session to vote on several items, including a motion to direct county staff to develop a concept for an eviction prevention program called Project RESET. That program caused some consternation among Commissioners at a work session last week.

Speaking in favor of the program, Commissioner Tim Denson said that the program’ “will help us curb evictions and keep people in their homes, specifically people who are actually in the middle of a dispossessory hearing, people who are not only at risk, but they are literally being evicted.”

Commissioner Russell Edwards said that the program’s relationship to the magistrate court offers additional security to tenants. “By including the magistrate court, you’re able to secure a binding settlement between landlords and tenants that will allow tenants to remain in their property for a time certain,” Edwards said.

Edwards also stressed that last night’s vote was not a vote to spend any money yet. “It simply gives staff the go-ahead to look at how we might implement a protective program that will create binding settlements with our magistrate court,” Edwards said.

Commissioner Ovita Thornton, however, pushed back against Edwards’ assertion, saying that she thinks the commission has moved precipitously in the past. “When we say it’s a concept, the next thing that I have experienced, it becomes the actual program,” Thornton said. “That’s a problem.”

Ultimately, the Commission voted unanimously to move ahead with the plan, and to direct staff to draft a plan for their consideration.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Clarke County School District which lays the groundwork for a tax allocation district in the Georgia Square Mall area, and to extend the last call time for alcohol sales back to 2:00 AM, as it was before the pandemic.