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Posted: November 21, 2010 12:30 a.m.

SPLOST list pared to $57.6 million

Breaking down the final SPLOST proposal

Despite the split among the Board of Commissioners, it did reach an informal consensus on a final SPLOST list Thursday night, totaling $57.6 million in projects.

The $57.6 million number is based on a conservative six-year SPLOST collection projection, created by the county finance department. Aggressive collection projections called for as much as $61.2 million. Any money collected above that total would likely be used to pay off debt.

Commissioners Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson all voiced their approval for Ewing's proposed list. The list will not officially be voted on by the board until its Dec. 7 meeting, Chairman Kathy Morgan said Friday.

SPLOST Philosophy

Because so many families are struggling economically and are opposed to increased taxes, commissioners have repeatedly said this will be a difficult SPLOST to pass. Multiple commissioners said they felt that paying off county debt and improving existing infrastructure were the most important goals. They said they wanted to avoid adding new facilities and additional maintenance and operation costs.

The county has a total of $69.7 million in debt according to financial documents, but nearly half of that is related to the Cornish Creek water production facility and the county has a separate water fund to cover many of those costs. Most of the debt is long-term, low interest debt. The county is expected to pay $2.69 million of interest in FY2011.

Roads and Debt

The largest single allocation is $17.28 million for a variety of county road projects. Covington would also receive $6.96 million for transportation projects.

Ewing's proposal also calls for the county to pay off $3 million of debt for the jail's detention pods and $5 million of debt for the Newton County Administration Building.

Judicial Center

The largest single project on the list is the expansion of the Newton County Judicial Center. Commissioner Tim Fleming lobbied hard for this project, noting that the building was already nearly at capacity before Judge Ken Wynne was sworn in as the third Newton County-based judge. Fleming said the county needed to put the list on the 2011 SPLOST in case money was not available for expansion later.

There had been a proposal for the county to buy the Geiger Street complex, which formerly housed R.L. Cousins High School, to house multiple county programs including the juvenile court. That proposal did not make the list, but Commissioner J.C. Henderson suggested that the county could consider using $2 million of the $7 million judicial center expansion allocation for the complex purchase.

The original proposal for the judicial center called for a $15 million expansion.

Hospital Emergency Room

Ewing's proposal includes $4 million for the expansion of Newton Medical Center's emergency room. According to statistics provided by the hospital, it had 18,159 emergency room visits in 1993. That number is expected to increase 43,047 visit by the end of 2010.

Mort Ewing said Friday that he felt this was the most critical project.

"I look at that as an important economic development project. Anytime, we've met with a prospect for the joint development authority they ask about schools and the hospital. And I'm able to brag about the hospital," Ewing said. "The emergency room is always full, and in the summer there is a line of people standing outside."

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said that Newton Medical Center provides quality care and she understands the need to expand the facilities; however, she wants to study health care in Newton County further before approving a $4 million SPLOST project. She called for the county to create a comprehensive health care plan to ensure adequate hospital care in the future.

Other Projects

Ewing's proposal also calls for $2.5 million to replace county vehicles, including sheriff's office vehicles, $1.1 million for a fire station in District 5, $1.2 million to complete the Historic Jail project, $1.5 million to build a local Miracle League field and $1 million to upgrade various existing parks.

The five county's five municipalities were awarded a total of $10.11 million, based on their portion of the county's population. The cities' final requests totaled $21.58 million.

In order to secure a six-year SPLOST collection, instead of the customary five years, the county and cities must sign an intergovernmental agreement approving the SPLOST.

Commissioner Schulz's proposal, which was not supported, included an additional $4.53 million for debt service, $2.72 million more for roads and an additional $2 million for fleet replacement. She did not include money for expansion of the judicial center and hospital.



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