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Decatur City Commission approves more grants for businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID

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Decatur City Commission approves more grants for businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID

Downtown Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission voted unanimously Monday night to provide an additional $225,000 in assistance to small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as $193,670 for local nonprofits.

The funding comes from the city’s portion of federal CARES Act money originally allocated to cover personnel and technology costs related to the city’s pandemic response.

“We did not incur the level of expenses in these areas that we had anticipated and that has freed up funding for businesses and nonprofits that did not receive grants,” Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon said Monday night. 

City staff proposed an ordinance that would reallocate some money to the city’s nonprofit grant program and recommended an amendment to its memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Decatur Development Authority (DDA) to add additional funds to the small business grant program.

The new grants will allow 13 eligible small businesses and eight nonprofits who met all eligibility criteria but were not chosen to get help after all.

In other business, the City Commision approved an update to the city’s stormwater utility fee system. Under the new system, city property owners will pay a proportional fee based on the amount of impervious surface on their property. 

Under the existing system, all single-family dwellings pay a stormwater fee of $100 and all other property owners are assessed at a rate of $100 per 2,900 square feet of impervious surface, Assistant City Manager David Junger said.

That system was established in 1999. Since then, the average impervious area of single-family homes has increased substantially, yet newer and larger homes were paying the same amount in stormwater utilities fees of older and smaller dwellings.

Stormwater utility fees are used to fund and maintain the city infrastructure that drains stormwater away from buildings, land and roads. Over the past 20 years, the city has put a lot of effort into improving its stormwater drainage in the downtown area, but residential neighborhoods mostly have outdated stormwater infrastructure or none at all.

The city’s new Stormwater Master Plan, passed by the City Commission in December 2020, prioritizes $38 million in high-priority infrastructure projects that need to be completed by 2040. The new utility fees will ensure that the city has funds to keep its drainage system updated and functional. But because the new fees will mean a significant increase for some property owners, the new structure will be phased in over the next two years.

Under a related measure also passed on Monday, senior citizens who have the S2 homestead exemption will have both their stormwater utility and residential waste collection fees offset by the city and will not pay the fees. The S2 Homestead Exemption is for seniors who are 80 years of age and above and earn less than $40,000 a year in income.

In addition, residents who undertake specific mitigation efforts to detain or treat stormwater on their properties are eligible to apply for credits to reduce or eliminate the fees. 

You can use this tool to look up your new stormwater utility fee. Information about applying for stormwater mitigation credits can be found in the Appendices to the Stormwater Master Plan, page 353.

The commission also approved a contract in the amount of $34,970 with engineering and environmental consulting firm Burns and McDonnell to conduct a Waste Characterization Study.

“We have worked with the Environmental Sustainability Board this year looking at our single-family recycling program,” Assistant City Manager David Junger said.  Our biggest challenge continues to be dealing with plastics – primarily # 3 through #7.”

Information from some small audits they have done with the recycling processor indicate about 20 percent of the material collected in the city’s curbside recycling is either incinerated or buried in landfills due to lack of market demand or to contamination.

The study performed by Burns and McDonnell will evaluate the waste discarded by all 6,100 Decatur households to determine what amount of material placed in recycling bins is either non-recyclable or contains contamination that makes it unable to be recycled. The consultants will also help the city evaluate the feasibility of establishing a curbside composting program by determining how much of the waste discarded in the city’s pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) bags might be suitable for composting instead.

Separate to the consultants’ work, the Department of Public Works will undertake efforts to educate residents about what items they can recycle how to ensure the recyclables are not contaminated, Junger said.

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