FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is set to cash in on significant grants to help fund its courts and behavioral health systems, but talks about accepting millions in HUD dollars bogged down at the Board of Commissioners’ July 28 work session.

With a total match of $63,000 in local funds, the county is set to receive around $668,000 from grants to support its judicial and behavioral health operations.

The first part was simple.

A $100,000 grant requiring no county match will support the county’s behavioral health provider, Avita. Forsyth was selected as one of 20 cities or counties nationwide to receive the award through the Aetna Foundation’s Healthy Cities & Counties Challenge. The county will use the money to create a data collection process and storage system to “improve coordination of care for people who are in a mental health crisis.”

The bulk of the grants were awarded to the county’s courts through the Council of Accountability Courts Judges State of Georgia Grant Program.

The Adult Felony Drug Court is set to receive over $260,000, with a $29,000 match from the county. More than $163,000 will go to the C.A.R.E (Changing, Assisting, Restoring and Enlightening for Mental Health Offenders) program. Family Drug Court is set to receive $40,586 with a $4,500 match from the county, and $102,000 will go toward the DUI Court with an $11,000 contribution from Forsyth.

Forsyth’s matches for the grants will come from its personnel fund.

While commissioners welcomed the grants with open arms, they tiptoed around the strings attached to proposed funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Forsyth is eligible to receive $910,000 from HUD each year over the next three years. The county has been eligible to receive HUD funding previously but has denied the dollars.

Commission Chair Laura Semanson explained the stipulations attached with accepting the HUD funds takes away some local control related to planning, housing, transportation and land use. In 2017, that was not a sacrifice the commissioners wanted to make because they wanted to chart their own course of growth.

“Even landing one very large, significant economic development opportunity would far outstrip that influx of cash into our community without having to give away the farm on it,” Semanson said.

Accepting the funds would also require the county set up a committee to allocate them, which would require spending hundreds of thousands of dollars “right out of the gate,” she added.

Following a “lively discussion” among commissioners in 2017, Semanson said, the county opted to forego HUD funding and sent a letter informing the federal department it did not want to participate in the program. The county did not reach out to HUD for possible inclusion this year, but the department did say it would check back with Forsyth “infrequently.”

With the option to receive a $2.7 million influx back on the table, commissioners charged County Attorney Ken Jarrard with reviewing the stipulations attached with accepting the money. Commissioner Molly Cooper said the termination of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation by HUD Director Ben Carson allows for more local control.

But, Semanson said if the regulations are similar to those in 2017, she would be opposed to the HUD dollars. Commissioner Todd Levent said he had concerns over getting into the program and being “stuck” with it, especially considering the possibility of a new administration next year that could change the regulations.  

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said there is a need for the annual $910,000 award.

“I’ve talked to non-profit groups that say, we need this for non-profits, we need it for creative enterprise, we need it for the elderly…I would love to see us have a mental health day treatment center,” Mills said. “There are a lot of needs in our community that are not being met.”

She added the funds do not have to be used for housing.

Mills said when she has met other commissioners from around the state, they have laughed at Forsyth for not accepting the federal dollars, stating they would gladly accept county residents’ contributions to the HUD program through federal taxes. 

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