The Newton County Board of Commissioners has agreed on a legislative agenda for 2009 they will encourage their representatives in the Capitol to champion.
The BOC settled on three legislative priorities at a work session retreat last Saturday. In order of importance they are:
1. Pushing for the inclusion of the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant in the state’s 2009 budget. Though it seems likely that the $428 million statewide grant will eventually be eliminated, county commissioners are hoping it will be included for a last time in this year’s budget, as they have already budgeted for it in their own county budget.
If the grant is eliminated this year, the county will have to re-bill the 24,000 residents who have qualified for the homestead exemption. The property tax break saves homeowners an average of $200-$300 a year. The county was expecting to receive $1.8 million in reimbursement from the state for the grant this year.
2. Retaining Georgia Perimeter College in Newton County and not lowering its academic standards.
"GPC has set the standards and they shouldn’t be lowered," said County Chairman Kathy Morgan.
A draft plan by a sub-committee formed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last summer recommends closing and moving all two-year community colleges into the state’s Technical College System. Community colleges are currently under the umbrella of the University System of Georgia.
"I feel like we as a community that has spent so much money bringing that school [here]…we’re definitely seeing measurable outcomes by having that school in our county," Morgan said.
3. Securing the county’s fair share of funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The BOC discussed placing a priority on receiving funding for the widening of Salem Road but agreed that that wouldn’t be likely this year as there is currently no state funding attached for the project as far forward as 2015.
"Realistically, [GDOT] has a set of procedures in place and they’re not going to change those," Morgan said.
In other BOC news:
The board received an economic development update from the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce at their Tuesday board meeting.
"With millions of jobs lost, trillions of dollars erased from the balance sheets and retirement funds devastated  was not a year to boast about," said Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby. "But 2008 was not nearly as bad a year in Newton County."
Boothby told the board that the chamber received enquiries for 28 economic development projects in 2008. Of those projects, 13 resulted in on the-ground visits with six companies actually announcing new locations in the county that created 50 new jobs.
There were also expansions from several preexisting industries including FiberVisions, Berry Plastics, C.R. Bard and SGD North America. These expansions resulted in 125 new jobs and a $23 million reinvestment in the county Boothby said.