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Communication is vital to governing
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Newton County has several matters awaiting a decision by the Board of Commissioners. The board has rightfully sought public input and employed citizen committees to study some of the most important items. Now, the time is approaching for the board to wrap up the studying and public meetings and make decisions that only it can make. Those decisions will impact every resident of Newton County, including residents of the municipalities.

Among the most important in terms of near and long-term impact are: (A) Landfill and all its environmental, financial and legal components; (B) Water system needs amounting to millions of dollars in upgrades; (C) Development of large industrial, commercial and residential tracts of land; (D) Comprehensive Planning required by the State of Georgia; and (E) Form of Government to best serve a community that is protective of its sense of place and on the precipice of change.

The success of many of these items will depend on funding controlled by the State of Georgia and the Federal Government.

Funding in the form of low interest loans or grants comes with controls that require the recipient to be a “Qualified Local Government” (QLG). QLG status is not automatic. Currently there are 43 cities and seven counties in the state that are unqualified for financial incentives controlled by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), and the One Georgia Authority.

Newton County Water and Sewer Authority (NCWSA) used a GEFA loan to build the water infrastructure needed to support a Stanton Springs development that is bringing hundreds of high quality jobs to the area. Because NCWSA had qualified as Water First status it will save 1.2 million dollars in interest costs. Newton County cities have used GEFA extensively and they too have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars because of their Water First status. Water First status is difficult to achieve — in 2012 Newton County was the only county in the state to be so certified and five of the seven cities designated as Water First are in Newton County. Newton County’s success was the result of communication between everyone involved. Communication was vital then and it remains so today.

Newton County mayors recognize the importance of communication and meet on a regular basis to discuss issues facing their cities, the county and the region. Maybe this is a good time for the commissioners and the mayors to get together for a serious look at some issues that will require joint decisions in the near future. Two important topics for discussion are: Comprehensive planning updates and Service Delivery Strategy updates. These are areas carefully monitored by the State of Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs and failure to meet certain criteria can lead to loss of Qualified Local Government status. If that were to happen the effect on the cities and the county would be devastating. The channels of communication must remain open.

Three of the county’s cities are governed by a mayor and council and operate with a city manager handling daily administrative matters. The transition to a system of government with an appointed (not elected) manager can be difficult. Every city’s charter is different but the essential elements tend to be that the council makes the laws and develops the policies while the administration carries them out. Who is responsible for what within the administration needs to be as clear as reasonably possible but there will be overlap and that is where the elected head of government and the appointed manager have to work together. Shared responsibilities can work but generally the electorate look to the highest elected official in the government when there is a problem. They don’t want to hear “that’s not my job.”

This is part of a series of columns on government by Jerry Roseberry. Roseberry is Mayor of Oxford and Vice Chairman of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Council. He can be reached at