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BOC talks budgeting, adult education
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Newton County commissioners continued laying out strategic planning goals Monday and talked about implementing zero-based budgeting for some departments, while Chairman Keith Ellis said he hopes to get 1,000 adults to go back to school by August.

Commissioners held their fourth strategic planning session as they continued to work through how to cut expenses and generate non-property tax revenue in an effort to lower the millage rate within two years, after this summer’s vote to raise the rate from 10.91 to 11.54.

Zero-based budgeting

Commissioners don’t believe zero-based budgeting is needed for every department, but they agreed it could be effective in finding places to cut costs, according to Jim Dove, executive director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, the state group facilitating the planning at no cost to the county.

Ellis said Tuesday the county will continue to look at organization, particularly in cases of one or two-person departments, the result of the significant employee cuts in 2010 and 2011 — approximately 60 employees were cut across the two years — that resulted in restructuring in several departments.

Getting adults in school

In conjunction with a push to better prepare Newton County’s workforce, to aid existing industries and help recruit new ones, Ellis has set a goal of persuading 1,000 adults to go back to school by next August.

He has been talking to officials at local colleges with adult education programs — Georgia Perimeter College, Georgia Piedmont Technical College, Troy University and Oxford College — seeking ideas on how to increase enrollment among adults who are either out of work or looking to upgrade their skills and jobs.

Ellis said the idea came to him recently when he was shopping for back-to-school supplies for his children and saw the usual promotions.

"You have the mommy and the child finishing their list for the child, and then I just had this idea of the child saying, ‘Now we have to go get your stuff, Mommy and Daddy, for you to go back to school,’" Ellis said.

Ellis wants to pool the county’s resources, including the colleges, Newton College and Career Academy — which provides practical job training for high-school students — and the New Leaf Workforce Development Center at the entrance of the Walker’s Bend subdivision in Covington, on which construction just finished.

He also wants to work with the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, which is actively pushing workforce development as part of its economic development strategy, and the Newton County School System. The school system would be crucial in spreading the message, through its students, to parents, Ellis said.

He wants commissioners to hold rallies in their districts to spread word of opportunities once they’re developed.

Whether it means GED training, entering college for the first time, finishing a college degree or learning a trade such as welding or plumbing, Ellis wants to see the local workforce improve.

Obviously, the biggest hurdle is how to pay for the schooling. Ellis said funding education and convincing people more education or training will help their long-term situations are crucial challenges, and he said there is still a lot of work to be done to find solutions. One consideration is paying someone to do local fundraising and help Ellis rally the community around the project.

"We need to make sure we have programs where people can turn their education into a higher increase in their salary," Ellis said.

 Other issues

Commissioner John Douglas, who represents District 1, wants to see a zoning overlay completed for the Brick Store community, which is the area around the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and Ga. Highway 11.

Special zoning overlays have already been completed for the Almon and Salem road areas; the overlays put different development standards on those sections of the county and seek to create city-like, mixed-use town centers. Alcohol by the drink can also only be allowed in overlay areas, something Douglas supports for the Brick Store area.

Commissioners also discussed how to better educate the public about where their tax money goes, including how much goes to the school system — which has a millage rate of 20 — and other sources. They discussed placing an app on the website to show a tax bill breakdown, Dove said.

As for discussion about planning for the next SPLOST and deciding on a judicial center expansion, commissioners decided it was too early to begin tackling those issues, Dove said.

 Next step

Commissioners will now take the goals they’ve identified and begin identifying action steps they want to take, and Dove will come back for another meeting in a couple of months.