Through a settlement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which in 1993 provided the seed money for economic development loans, the county has to hand back $127,000 out of the original $500,000 federal grant.
The grant, together with $180,000 from the county, funded loans to 18 small businesses.
"Some of those loans are over 1,000 days old," said Mike Rowicki, the county deputy director of housing and human services. "They went bankrupt or there were other issues. They were not able to pay back those loans. The U.S. Department of Commerce has asked us to ... pay back 73.5 percent of the balance that we currently have, which is about $127,000."
Payments by loanees stopped as early as 1997.
The most recent delinquent loan payment was made in 2009.The Fulton County Board of Commissioners approved the deal today 7-0, but were left little choice in how to proceed.
"They would ask us to pay back the full $500,000," Rowicki said about the alternative to approving a "termination for convenience" settlement contract.
The six delnquent companies are C'est Bon, Durable Coating, Eagle Golf, Showcase Eatery, Scotchy's International and Jacob Collision.
Durable Coating agreed to pay back $45,000.
Loans already written off had been made to A Mother's Answer, Brooks & Hall Enterprises, Chiresba, Peppercorns Restaurant and Edelweiss Restaurant.
Of the 18 loans, seven were paid off by Better Label and Products, Cantar/Polyair Corp., CWC Sales, Kimperly S. Carroll M.D., Monarch Financial Services, Manny's Texas Barbecue and Arna Print.
Rowicki said the action will not prevent the county from getting other federal grants in future.
"It will have no negative effect on Fulton County," Rowicki said.
But commissioners were alarmed by the lack of oversight of the loans.
Commissioner Joan Garner asked for a list of the county economic development board members responsible for making the loans.
"That program didn't turn out too well, did it?" she said.
Commissioner William "Bill" Edwards agreed.
"90 days -- oh, hell," he said about beginning collection procedures.
Sandy Springs resident Patricia "Ajika" Williams, who spoke during the public comment section, also took Rowicki's department to task.
She also said his department violated its $5 million transportation contract by failing to provide services to seniors like herself.
"I’ve left some documents with the clerk’s office for some of you, which I believe shows that department of Housing and Human Services has been in violation of state and federal laws for as far back as October 2012," Williams said. "I’ve left those documents. I hope somebody will no longer ignore the things I’ve been saying."
Priorities were misplaced, Williams said, placing "entertainment centers and animal services" over citizens .
"It appears that there’s evidence that the administration is losing the public trust," Williams said. "There seems to be some sort of systematic management problem. There’s something going on in the department of Housing and Human Services with the management."
Niether the board nor Rowicki responded.
The housing and human services department, of which Rowicki and Gerry Easley are co-deputy directors, has the following divisions and programs:
-Office of Aging
-Office of Children and Youth
-Emergency and Transitional Housing
-Grants and Community Partnerships
-Housing and Community Development
In other actions, the board approved a take-home vehicle report regarding 140 "company cars" employees may drive to their homes, presented by Facilities and Transportation Services Director David L. Ricks.
Of the list, all but 28 are for public safety employees like police officers, sheriff's deputies and marshals.
Commissioner Liz Hausmann challenged the justification for non-emergency workers, like the district attorney and tax commissioner, to have the take-home privilege.
Commissioner Emma Darnell agreed, saying the process had to "make sense to taxpayers" and she wanted to "apply the rules in a fair and efficient manner."
"There's some additional information I'd like to request, as well," she said. "I'd like to know how many times the DA was called back on an emergency -- and the tax commissioner."