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Commissioners split on SPLOST
Ewing's original proposal likely to be passed Tuesday
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Commissioner Mort Ewing's Proposal (approved by informal consensus):

Level One SPLOST projects
Jail pods debt service - $3 million
Administration Building debt service - $5 million
Judicial Center (expansion) - $7 million

Level Two SPLOST projects
Upgrade parks - $1 million
Miracle League Field - $1.5 million
District 4 improvements - $1.1 million
Animal Control - $100,000
Juvenile facility - $500,000
Historic Jail - $1.2 million
Agricultural facility - $1.1 million
Fire Station #8 - $1.1 million
Hospital emergency room - $4 million
Landfill debt service - $500,000
Public Works equipment - $500,000
County vehicle replacement - $2.5 million
Fire services - $100,000
Road improvements - $17.28 million

Municipal SPLOST projects
Transportation - $6.96 million
Airport - $500,000

Porterdale (these numbers have been altered)
Transportation - $394,000
Porterdale Gym - $400,000
Recreation - $36,000

Unspecified - $1.23 million

Transportation - $252,630

Transportation, recreation and community center - $336,840

Total: $57.6 million

Additional SPLOST Info

Chairman Kathy Morgan presented more information to the Board of Commissioners about the projects included in Commissioner Mort Ewing’s $57.6 million, 6-year 2011 SPLOST proposal. Below are descriptions of some SPLOST funding proposals.

Newton County Judicial Center - $7 million

Morgan said if this project was not funded, the county would still have to find additional space during the next six years. Administrative Assistant John Middleton said general utility costs are $1.35 per square foot.

Juvenile court facility - $500,000

If the county did not pursue additional space for the juvenile court, Morgan said. The court would be forced to send more children to a detention program. While the state covers the detention costs, the county is responsible for transportation costs of $4,000 to $7,000 per month. She said the court currently runs programs for 300 to 400 children each month.

She said it would cost $300,000 to renovate the former Troy State University location in the complex that formerly housed R.L. Cousins High School. The additional $200,000 that would have gone toward a lease-purchase of the building is not SPLOST eligible.

Agricultural Facility - $1.1 million

Various agricultural groups requested a total of four different agricultural facilities: a youth center, $2 million; a youth and livestock arena, $1.87 million; farmers market, $500,000; community cannery, $750,000. If the board wanted to support one of the two youth facilities, Morgan said the county would have to seek a donation of land and additional money to cover the funding gap.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz expressed concern that no business plan or study had been conducted on any project. Attorney Jenny Carter said the board did not have to pick a specific facility at this time. Morgan said the board can hear proposals later and will not have to approve a plan it does not like.


Fire Station #8 - $1.1 million

Middleton said that fire stations cost an average of $545,000 a year to staff and operate, not including the maintenance and operation costs of the fire trucks.


Transportation Projects - $17.28 million

The county will need to create a list of more specific projects to submit to voters for the March 15 vote.

Newton County Administration

Building Debt Service - $5 million

This building is expected to have $9.2 million of debt remaining on it as of June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Morgan said the building cost a little more than $13 million to construct. Bonds were issued to pay for the project. The 2005 SPLOST allocated $5 million to the project.

County Commissioner Mort Ewing's $57.6 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proposal is expected to gain formal approval of the commission when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Historic Courthouse.

Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Earnest Simmons, who opposed Ewing’s list, made counterproposals that were unable to garner majority support at a work session on Tuesday. Commissioners Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson pledged support for Ewing’s proposal previously and are expected to vote for his SPLOST list.

Chairman Kathy Morgan detailed the Ewing list on Tuesday, telling commissioners whether projects would entail future maintenance and operation costs.

She said previously she believed the 2011 SPLOST should contain more money to pay off county debt, because otherwise some debt would have to be paid out of the general fund. Ewing allocated $8.5 million to pay off debt on the Newton County Detention Center, Administration Building and landfill. Morgan said Tuesday that under Ewing’s proposal the county would have to pay $1.8 million out of the general fund during the next six years.

Schulz called for an additional $1.59 million to pay debt, while making slight reductions from other line items. The board will not issue bonds based on expected SPLOST collections to pay for any projects, as it has done in the past.

"I think we’ve all listened to our constituents over the past couple of weeks and I know that all of us know how important it is to pass the SPLOST. And I feel very strongly that we need a list that all of us can support," Schulz said. "Everything that I’ve listened to over the last few weeks tells me that good fiscal policy is to focus on reducing your debt as much as possible."

The list is the major portion of the SPLOST, but the county and the county’s five cities must also pass an intergovernmental agreement if they want to be able to collect the additional tax for six years.

Representatives from the five cities met with Morgan and a county attorney earlier Tuesday to discuss a revised intergovernmental agreement. Based on various comments Tuesday night, it appeared that the cities had supported an agreement including Ewing's proposal and were all set to officially vote on the agreement next week, either at regularly scheduled or called meetings.

When asked, Jenny Carter, an attorney in County Attorney Tommy Craig's law office, said that if the board voted to approve a different SPLOST list, the cities would have to re-vote on a new agreement. She asked if all commissioners were satisfied with the terms of the agreement, if not the actual list, and all four present commissioners showed signs of agreement.

Morgan attempted to call for another informal consensus vote on the agreement as a whole, but Ewing said a consensus had already been reach on both the list, at a Dec. 18 work session, and on the rest of the intergovernmental agreement.

"I'm not going to reach any further agreements tonight," he said.

Simmons and Schulz said they still had serious concerns about the consensus list.

"It's of concern to me that we could be going forward with a plan that we might have people that actively vote against it, because we were unwilling to look at compromise. And I think that is tragic. And that is something this board is going to have to live with," Schulz said.

Once approved by the county, the SPLOST list will be put to a public vote in a special election on March 15. If approved by voters, an additional penny sales tax would be collected in the county for six years.