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Posted: December 17, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Commissioners split on SPLOST

Ewing's original proposal likely to be passed Tuesday

County Commissioner Mort Ewing's $57.6 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proposal is expected to gain formal approval of the commission when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Historic Courthouse.

Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Earnest Simmons, who opposed Ewing’s list, made counterproposals that were unable to garner majority support at a work session on Tuesday. Commissioners Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson pledged support for Ewing’s proposal previously and are expected to vote for his SPLOST list.

Chairman Kathy Morgan detailed the Ewing list on Tuesday, telling commissioners whether projects would entail future maintenance and operation costs.

She said previously she believed the 2011 SPLOST should contain more money to pay off county debt, because otherwise some debt would have to be paid out of the general fund. Ewing allocated $8.5 million to pay off debt on the Newton County Detention Center, Administration Building and landfill. Morgan said Tuesday that under Ewing’s proposal the county would have to pay $1.8 million out of the general fund during the next six years.

Schulz called for an additional $1.59 million to pay debt, while making slight reductions from other line items. The board will not issue bonds based on expected SPLOST collections to pay for any projects, as it has done in the past.

"I think we’ve all listened to our constituents over the past couple of weeks and I know that all of us know how important it is to pass the SPLOST. And I feel very strongly that we need a list that all of us can support," Schulz said. "Everything that I’ve listened to over the last few weeks tells me that good fiscal policy is to focus on reducing your debt as much as possible."

The list is the major portion of the SPLOST, but the county and the county’s five cities must also pass an intergovernmental agreement if they want to be able to collect the additional tax for six years.

Representatives from the five cities met with Morgan and a county attorney earlier Tuesday to discuss a revised intergovernmental agreement. Based on various comments Tuesday night, it appeared that the cities had supported an agreement including Ewing's proposal and were all set to officially vote on the agreement next week, either at regularly scheduled or called meetings.

When asked, Jenny Carter, an attorney in County Attorney Tommy Craig's law office, said that if the board voted to approve a different SPLOST list, the cities would have to re-vote on a new agreement. She asked if all commissioners were satisfied with the terms of the agreement, if not the actual list, and all four present commissioners showed signs of agreement.

Morgan attempted to call for another informal consensus vote on the agreement as a whole, but Ewing said a consensus had already been reach on both the list, at a Dec. 18 work session, and on the rest of the intergovernmental agreement.

"I'm not going to reach any further agreements tonight," he said.

Simmons and Schulz said they still had serious concerns about the consensus list.

"It's of concern to me that we could be going forward with a plan that we might have people that actively vote against it, because we were unwilling to look at compromise. And I think that is tragic. And that is something this board is going to have to live with," Schulz said.

Once approved by the county, the SPLOST list will be put to a public vote in a special election on March 15. If approved by voters, an additional penny sales tax would be collected in the county for six years.


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