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Commissioner says residents wanted control of programming if west Newton building tax-funded
Newton County Historic Courthouse
Newton County Historic Courthouse - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — A county commissioner said some residents of her district told her they did not want SPLOST money used for a facility in which they would have no say over the occupant’s programming.

District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said in an email that “multiple” homeowners association presidents and residents told her they opposed using sales tax money reserved for a west Newton “youth outreach project” if it included a private organization. 

A project listed among 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects and “reiterated” to residents was a “Youth Outreach Facility” on the west side of Newton County, she said. 

“It does not state a partnership or a contract with any entity,” Sanders said. 

County commissioners voted Feb. 16 to deny use of $495,000 reserved for the “outreach facility” for a community center Sanders planned in Fairview Community Park.

Commissioners voted after hearing from a series of speakers. The majority said they favored using the funds for a new building to house the two-year-old Newton County Boys & Girls Club while others favored a different type of facility.

County officials, including County Manager Lloyd Kerr, said no formal agreements had been made with the Boys & Girls Club for use of any structure built with 2017 SPLOST funding.

A board member said the Newton County Boys & Girls Club is still developing its programming.

Sanders said each commissioner received $495,000 to put back into their districts from proceeds of the 2017 SPLOST.

“It was not utilized for District 3 nor are there any contracts in place to be granted to anyone,” she said.

She said SPLOST funds “are taxpayer dollars that we agreed to utilize for our community.”

“Giving a half-a-million dollars of taxpayers dollars to an entity that we as the community do not have a say in their operations is ludicrous. Our hands are tied and we cannot change their programs to meet our needs,” she said. 

“It also makes us look lazy that as long as we have something in place we are fine with whatever is occurring, even if it is a disservice to our community.”

Sanders said that residents she spoke with said “they were against this occurring and we heard from a few” at the Feb. 16 Board of Commissioners meeting. 

“The Boys & Girls Club has over 80 corporate sponsors that provide millions of dollars to their program. I was already informed they have raised a substantial amount of money for this location. 

“These are funds that our county does not have access to and some of these businesses have locations in our community. They can receive funding which some counties have stopped financially supporting the program because they can get sponsorship dollars from major corporations,” she said.

She said the “westside” of Newton County includes districts 2, 3, and parts of 4. 

The Newton County Boys & Girls Club currently operates in a temporary facility on Brown Bridge Road in District 2 and is not a District 3 project based on how the county separated SPLOST funds per district, Sanders said.

She said she was told the Club could not find land on which to expand and Kerr asked about the Club “partnering” with her “after hearing about the District 3 community project” because of the Club’s issue.

“Once I was informed that we had no input in the programs and operations if there was a partnership, I brought this to the community and they stated that this is not something they wanted to do after understanding how it works,” Sanders said. 

“Many were there (Feb. 16) to express their support in moving the funds to a project and that our community will have full access,” she said. 

“There are over 50,000 citizens just in District 3 alone and servicing only 129 kids with county funds is unacceptable,” she said.

She said a community center project she is proposing in Fairview Community Park off Fairview Road “was to expand and do what the Boys & Girls Club could not do for our youth.”

Sanders said her research showed the Club has no programs focusing on technology and excludes app and web development, science or the arts.

She said all students in the county do not have the opportunity to receive STEM instruction. 

Some STEM instruction is offered throughout the Newton County School System but the STEM Institute at Newton College and Career Academy only accepts 56 new students out of about 300 applicants annually for its biotechnology and engineering programs, Academy officials said.

Sanders said, “The Boys & Girls Club does not touch on all the subject matters regarding STEM or STEAM. Their programs are designed by those who do not know our children and their personal interest.”

“We have thousands of kids in Newton that are being left out and our literacy rates are below average, high in STDs, health/wellness, and much more... The things needed for our children on the west side, the entity could not offer because their programs are set nationwide,” she said.