By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) made a last minute revisal to their application for the USDA $80,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant for the coming Farmers Market on Aug. 5, just two days before the application deadline on Thursday, Aug. 7.

The BOC reluctantly voted to switch the recipient of grant back to the BOC itself instead of the Morgan County Building Authority, as previously desired, “if and only if” the information required to verify the Building Authority’s eligibility does not come through by Thursday. “We have been struggling and working with this to get the final approval,” said Andy Ainslie, chairman of the BOC. The $80,000 grant is intended to partially fund the construction of the coming Farmers Market, to be located at 2620 Eatonton Rd.

This is a public-private partnership in which the county will own and construct the farmers market and Kellys Products will operate the enterprise. It is this unique arrangement that has made the procurement of the USDA grant difficult for county. “This is unusual from what we normally do,” said Jeff McLeod, area coordinator for the USDA. “But we are wanting to this to work out. But from a funding standpoint, we have a deadline to get all these grants obligated.

If we don’t, the feds will pool the money and look at other cases that may be eligible for those monies. We have got down to the wire with this.” Since the USDA grant is for public entities aiming to enhance rural development, the inclusion of a private component has created hurtles for the county to overcome before they can receive the USDA grant. Deeming the Building Authority as the official recipient of the grant was one of those hurtles.

According to Christian Henry, county lawyer, The BOC originally wanted the Building Authority to be the official recipient of the grant, because that body as “greater flexibility to lease out property to a third party than the county does.” But a small technicality required by the USDA to verify the Building Authority’s eligibility was overlooked and discovered possibly too late to fix before the deadline.

The USDA requires that the Building Authority acquire a Sam.gov number, which is a new clearance protocol used by the IRS to verify that an applicant has not accumulated any delinquent federal debt, and a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code, which clears an entity to do business with the federal government and the military, before grant monies can be distributed. Even though the Building Authority has no federal debt, without the numbers, the USDA cannot process the application.

Although the county immediately registered for the numbers, only the Sam.gov number has come through, and Lamar is hoping the CAGE code will be assigned before McLeod’s absolute deadline, which is 5 PM on Thursday, Aug. 7. “The bottom line is that we want the money,” said Michael Lamar, county manager. “If by some miracle, we get the requirements met for the Building Authority to be approved by Thursday, then great. But if we have to have the county be the recipient and work with the federal restrictions, then we will.”

Once the county’s application is pushed through, the next step will be for the county to meet the federal conditions attached to the grant. According to McLeod, this process can take a year or less, depending on how fast the county acts. “It’s a grant, but there are strings attached because the grant is for a certain purpose,” explained McLeod. “That’s why we issue conditions, to ensure the grant money is used to serve the original purpose, which is purpose is job creation, to stimulate the economy in a rural area.”