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Posted: June 19, 2009 12:00 a.m.

County gets $1.75 million for transportation

Newton County has still not received any stimulus road funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation, but it will receive $1.75 million in stimulus transportation money from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

County Engineer Kevin Walter said he didn't know how the county would spend the money, but he said the money from ARC can be used more flexibly than money that comes from GDOT, because the GDOT project approval process is more strict.

Walter said the chairman and Board of Commissioners will discuss all eligible projects and pick one or two that have a high priority and can be started on soon. He said the county has done extensive planning on several projects over the past few months, which is one of the requirements for stimulus money, because projects must be bid out for contract by 2010.

Walter said the money could be used for the four projects already approved by the GDOT or any other projects, as long as they meet federal requirements and can be contracted out by March 2010.

The four projects previously approved by the GDOT and eligible to receive GDOT stimulus money are:
• Maintenance on State Road 142 from the Jasper County line to State Road 12
• Resurfacing I-20 from State Road 142 in Newton to State Road 83 in Morgan
• Intersection improvement at State Road 162/Salem Road and County Road 33/Spring Road
• Widening of State Road 142 from south of State Road 12/US 278 to County Road 72

Georgia received $932 million in stimulus money, and so far GDOT has handed out $374 million for 100 different projects, including three in Rockdale County, and the ARC will give out the last of its $120 million.

Walter said Newton and other rural counties fought to receive this final $27.1 million from the ARC, because the ARC previously gave $25 million of its stimulus money to MARTA. As a result, rural counties received this money and the urban counties of DeKalb and Fulton will receive no more ARC stimulus money.

GDOT has approximately $438 million remaining, which must be given out to counties by the end of this calendar year. Walter said the state and federal government is still deciding whether it will give any of the money directly to local governments, instead of only using road money on projects that have been approved by GDOT.

In addition to stimulus money, the county may hire a lobbyist in FY 2010. Chairman Kathy Morgan has repeatedly said the county's road budget is too small and that the county does not receive enough state or federal road money. As a result, she said the county is not able to pave, repave and repair enough of the county's roads.

Morgan said she is doing research on whether a lobbyist will be worth the expense, noting that most Georgia counties now have their own lobbyist to ensure state money, particularly for roads. She added that many counties are even starting to pursue a federal lobbyist.

Morgan has set aside $100,000 in her public works budget, which will be used on a lobbyist if she determines the benefit will outweigh the cost. She said the county has had a professional services budget line item for years and a lobbyist could be a different way to use this money.

Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) has previously said he believes a lobbyist is unnecessary because that is the job of the local representatives.


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