Jun. 23—MARIETTA — The Cobb Board of Commissioners took a $1.5 million bite out of its $73 million sandwich of federal stimulus money Tuesday with the creation of a new emergency food assistance program.
The vote carried 4-1, with Commissioner Keli Gambrill opposed.
Under the program, non-profits around the county can apply for funding to purchase food boxes, vouchers, and ready-to-eat meals for distribution to residents. Funds can also be used for costs associated with food distribution.
Demand for food assistance exploded last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, MUST Ministries said the number of households to which it delivered food multiplied tenfold, reaching up to 61,000 homes. In Cobb, the demand has dropped by 20% to 30% since last year's peak, per the agenda item.
Gambrill, reading from prepared remarks, said among her concerns was the program's distribution model. Applicants are to be reviewed based on a number of factors including their experience in food distribution and the number of persons served. The west Cobb commissioner said the criteria would favor larger, well-established organizations, characterizing it as "preferential treatment" for those non-profits and "insulting" to smaller ones.
The program's creation, Gambrill said, was prompted by a $600,000 request from the Cobb Community Foundation, which coordinated food distribution in 2020 through its Food Fleet initiative. Chairwoman Lisa Cupid responded that Gambrill's comments were a mischaracterization of the program. The request, Cupid noted, was not granted, but spurred discussion by the board of creating a new food assistance program.
"When we learned the federal programs were going to stop supporting the Food Fleet program, they asked us to step in," Cupid said after the meeting.
"But in weighing (Gambrill's) concerns, and the concerns of others that are on this board and in the community, we decided to not move forward with just providing support for the Food Fleet program."
Cupid emphasized any non-profit working in food assistance can apply to the county for funding, and promised any qualified non-profit who applies will receive some degree of funding.
A memo prepared by Kimberly Roberts, head of the county's Community Development Block Grant office, proposed a method for weighing requests which considers the number of people served by a given organization. Non-profits serving less than 500 people would receive 25% of their request; those serving up to 1,000 would receive 50%; those serving 1,000 to 2,500 would receive 75%; any higher, and the group would receive 100% of its funding request.
In other business, the board approved the following items:
— The creation of four new positions in the county's cybersecurity department. The $46,389 expense funds the positions through the end of the fiscal year in September, and was requested in the wake of a phishing attack on the county's email servers earlier this month.
— A request for proposals for a compensation and classification study of county employees. The board last contracted such a study in 2014, and implemented its findings in 2017. County Manager Jackie McMorris, however, said the county is still "bleeding" quality workers and needs to address its turnover and retention issues.
— The approval of a concept plan for a $9 million traffic and pedestrian safety overhaul of a portion of Lower Roswell Road in east Cobb, between Woodlawn Drive and Davidson Road. Construction is expected to begin in May 2022.
— The submission of an application for federal funds to back the Cumberland Multi-Modal Path, a recreational trail around the Truist Park area. If approved, the county could receive up to $2.8 million for a development program for the pathway, with the Cumberland CID chipping in a required $705,000 local match.
— The purchase of four new fire engines and one aerial ladder truck for the county fire department, costing a total of $4.73 million.