The Newton County Judicial Center will be expanded soon after a unanimous decision by the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to utilize excess funds from the 2011 Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax was passed Tuesday evening.
The additions will include a third-floor expansion to the judicial center and were passed in the 2011 SPLOST, but county estimates for design, renovation and expansion were under the accepted proposal from Hogan Construction Group.
Hogan’s estimate was $12,382,450, exceeding the $7,000,000 assigned from SPLOST revenues by the county.
The BOC agreed to pay the difference out of SPLOST funds that have exceeded the $57,600,000 predicted to be raised by the 2011 tax.
“I just want to thank judges for their patience,” said District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who was a BOC member in 2011. "This is a big relief for us to have our day today.”
In a symbolic gesture, all five commissioners agreed to be recorded in the minutes as making the motion, and offered a second motion to utilize excess SPLOST funds to pay for the complete judicial center expansion.
“It is a good day for the citizens of Newton County and the people who want their cases moved up a little faster,” said District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who was also on the board in 2011.
Superior Court Judges Samuel Ozburn, Horace Johnson and Ken Wynne were present for the vote, held in the Historic Courthouse.
“We appreciate your confidence and we are looking forward to working with you in completing this in a way Newton County and its citizens can be proud of,” Ozburn told the BOC. “We will put it to good use.”
Other BOC news
Financial report, check registry voted down
The board voted against approving the county’s financial report and check registry due to an invoice from the W. T. Craig Law Firm.
According to District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox, the county paid $93,000 to the former county attorney this fiscal year 2017. In contrast, the county’s current attorney Jarrard and Davis has been paid $194,000, of which $44,000 is paid directly to Frazier and Deeter CPAs and Advisors for a forensic audit, he said.
The BOC voted to use an in-house attorney in November, rather than the law firm of Tommy Craig. This summer, the board voted to hire Jarrard and Davis as its attorney.
However, under state law, constitutional officers are allowed to hire their own attorneys and set their own budget.
According to Kerr, the use of Craig is from the county’s other elected officials, not the board.
Sheriff Ezell Brown, who has continued using Craig’s law firm, was asked why the invoices from Craig were very vague and did not list out what services the attorney was being paid for.
“In the office of the sheriff, we purposefully do that for many reasons,” Brown said to the board. “When we have an individual or an officer who are involved in lawsuits we purposefully code that so that you or the general public will not be able to call the particular officer and say that you’re in a lawsuit, [and use that for leverage].
The BOC’s vote against the financial report and check registry is a symbolic gesture, as the bills have already been paid.
New additions to county parks
During the Chairman’s report, Ellis announced two additions soon to be added to the Newton County park system.
One will be for man’s best friend at Chimney Park. Sandy’s Park — a dog park— will soon be added through a contribution from private citizens, efforts from the county’s public works department and fencing being reused from near the public defender’s office.
The other park will be behind the Newton County Administration Building, courtesy of the Covington Rotary Club. The Rotary Club utilized pavers left over from its Miracle Field project and paid for four benches surrounding the club’s Rotospoke log. The park will also have trees planted around it the county is utilizing from a department of transportation project.
Land ordinance changes
Property owners in an area zoned agriculture residential in the county will be able to transfer a minimum of one acre to a family member without going through the zoning process, following a unanimous vote by the BOC Tuesday.
The property being transferred will not be required to have road frontage.
“This will make it easier for someone to transfer property who does not want to go through the zoning process,” Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr said.
Ellis, who said he has a piece of property that has been in his family since 1833, found the new ordinance useful.
“I intend to utilize this ordinance to allow my three children to have a lot on the property I still have,” he said.
Changes for lake-side property owners
Homeowners along Jackson Lake will be able to place buildings in their front yards after changes to the 2009 zoning ordinance were amended by the BOC Tuesday.
The ordinance accommodates properties in which there is little room on the side yard, or in the back, between the home and waterfront for the addition of a building.
The ordinance change also allows for buildings, such as well houses or barns to be put on a property no smaller than five acres that does not have a structure, such as a home on it.
Roads to be worked on
District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox requested four roads from his district to be added to the 2011 SPLOST road list. The roads are Stephenson Road, White Laurel Lane, River Shoals Court and Autumn Leave Lane.