COVINGTON, Ga. — The chairman of Newton County’s Public Facilities Authority says funding will be approved for a new fire station despite allegations other commissioners were holding it “hostage” to gain their projects’ approval.
District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason said at the end of the Newton County Board of Commissioners' Feb. 2 meeting that he “supported and voted for the new fire station to be built” in 2020 on Big Woods Road near the Starrsville community.
“I understand the need of establishing more fire safety throughout Newton County. Therefore, the funding for this fire station will be approved,” he said.
“I was elected to not only serve District 2, but to serve the entire citizenship of Newton County,” Mason said.
He said after the Public Facilities Authority meeting Jan. 19 “there were some negative and misleading media published” which referred to District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards’ comment that he believed other Authority members were holding the fire station bond funding “hostage.”
“I would like to clarify, that this is the farthest from the truth,” Mason said.
“In 2020, I supported and voted for the new fire station to be built. This proves my point that the fire station was never being held hostage as publicized,” he said.
Edwards did not respond publicly after Mason read his statement. He declined comment on Mason's remarks after the meeting, other than to say, "My statements to date on the matter still stand as undisputed."
The other Authority members Jan. 19 also were Board of Commissioners members who said they wanted proposed projects in their central and west Newton districts considered for bond funding, in addition to the fire station.
Edwards wanted bond financing for the fire station to be voted on first but Mason allowed other board members' recreation-related projects to be considered before voting on issuing bonds for the planned Fire Station No. 4.
After Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan voted against adding the other commissioners' projects to a list under consideration, the authority then voted 3-2 to delay action on the fire station bonds for 30 days.
Mason said, "We must understand, as a community, all projects have value, (whether) it is categorized as economic development, parks and recreation or establishing infrastructure.
"It should be noted that all projects have value. Citizens in all districts pay property taxes and deserve an enhanced quality of life within all five districts," Mason said.
"It is disingenuous to state that recreation is less important than other projects. I invite all of our citizens, as well as each of my fellow commissioners to go back to the Newton County website and read the Strategic Plan that was voted on and implemented in 2019," he said.
Mason has proposed construction of an aquatic center in west Newton with funding from a number of possible sources, including bonds.
He said that under the Strategic Plan's “Enhance Quality of Life” section, it states that the county should provide non-traditional programming options for family and youth such as health and nutrition classes, yoga, pickleball and boot camps.
It should also host youth engagement activities in various parks throughout the county such as Kids Wildlife Day, Fun Days and Youth Skills and Drills — which he emphasized were all recreation-related.
"Therefore recreational facilities and activities are indeed important to the citizens of Newton County, as written in our current Strategic Plan," Mason said.
He said he wanted the county manager to find grants, state dollars, corporate sponsors or seek "investment dollars from our municipalities that would be willing to invest in this strategic plan implementation since all of Newton County, along with the citizens from our local municipalities will benefit greatly from this center."
“I hope that this statement brings clarity to the matters needed to be addressed amongst this board and that we will move forward in the spirit of unity and progression,” Mason said.