The Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) left their home county and spent a day talking business at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission in Athens Wednesday, going over a long list of topics.
The BOC, along with some staff members, began the six-hour long meeting by reviewing past SPLOST projects with an eye on future ones. They also considered possible road projects, discussed finances, and looked at what may be the county’s biggest challenge — solid waste.
The Newton County Historical Society outlined the progress of the Newton County Historic Jail. Money for the renovation project was allocated from the 2011 SPLOST funds. Interim County Manager Lloyd Kerr asked the board if it wished to move forward with the project, expected to cost between $650,000 and $750,000. The county has already collected $800,000 in funds, he said.
The board came to a consensus with moving forward with the project. The board also came to a consensus on renovations to the Newton County Animal Shelter with $100,000 in funds from the 2011 SPLOST.
While discussing the renovations, the board also spoke of a new animal shelter that could be built with money from the 2017 SPLOST funds.
Following a look at ideas both from the 2011 and for the 2017 SPLOST, the BOC discussed several road projects underway, and some that would need to be tended to in the future.
Water Resources Director James Brown then reported the county’s water supply and other related issues. Brown says the county is seeking a request for proposal for corrective measures at the county’s water plant.
Among the discussion was the possibility of raising water prices in the future. Brown’s recommendation was to keep prices the same. Kerr said that Brown’s recommendation came following a water summit, held in February with the Water and Sewer Authority, the city of Covington and other Newton County water customers.
Solid waste problems
Though water resources aren’t a problem for the county, the same cannot be said for its solid waste.
The BOC spent a good portion of its retreat discussing the county’s solid waste issues, including the landfill’s spiraling costs and negative effect on the county’s budget. Kerr reported that the county’s expenses are greater than its revenues, and a lot of that is attributed to solid waste.
“As far as the budget goes, if we set aside the landfill, we would be okay on the budget,” Kerr said. “That unfortunately is where we’re having to put a lot of our attention and a lot of our financial resources right now. What happens at the landfill is going to have an absolute impact on what we do with our budget.”
Costs to correct recent leachate spills could be as low as $2 million or as high as $20 million, Kerr said.
“The more realistic estimate could be around $12 million,” he said.
Some of that money could come in the form of funds from a presidential emergency declaration signed in March, and loans, but that won’t cover all the costs.
The county, Kerr said, is also losing money from the convenience centers, which allows Newton County citizens to dispose of waste for free at 11 sites throughout the county. However, several of the commissioners said citizen’s comments have made it clear that the convenience centers are among one of the most popular services the county offers.
“I do think the citizens made it very clear they want to maintain the convenience centers in some sort of way,” said District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz. “The issue is what is collected at the convenience center needs to cross the scale for a revenue stream.”
Kerr reminded the board that the convenience centers will remain a cost to the county, even with their popularity. “If you continue to operate them, you have to operate them full-well knowing that this is going to eat up this segment of our money every year,” he said.
The newly Solid Waste Management Authority will take over the responsibility for the convenience centers and landfill. However, until the authority can get the county’s solid waste in the black, the county will still need to find the funds to keep it going.
“As we go to the next budgeting cycle, even though we are eligible for certain grants and eligible for certain loans, we still have to calculate certain expenses up front ,” Kerr said.