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County enters hiring freeze
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Camp 100 at Bert Adams Scout Camp

By: Darrell Everidge

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To help the county balance its budget, Newton County Interim Manager Lloyd Kerr asked the board of commissioners (BOC) to initiate a hiring freeze on open positions.

The freeze would be on all positions available within the county, but no currently filled. The freeze excludes entry level positions in public safety.

“The county financial situation is such that we need to take a look at every penny that we can save,” Kerr said. “And we also need to look at measures that we would not normally like to take,”

Kerr said the freeze could save the county $1.2 million on an annual basis.

The freeze would not affect a position that was to become open if someone currently holding that position were to leave.
There is currently not a precise timetable on the end of the freeze.

“I would hope that we would not have to hold [the hiring freeze] for the entire year,” Kerr said. “But I believe we have to be prudent now and save existing money for the rest of the fiscal year and as we move into the next fiscal year.”

New building for juvenile court

Newton County’s Juvenile Court will have a new building constructed for offices, rather than be housed in a rehabilitated R.L. Cousins School building after a vote by the BOC Tuesday.

A remodel of the R.L. Cousins School for juvenile court offices was included, and passed, in the 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). However after receiving estimates of the cost of a remodel, Lloyd Kerr and his staff determined that the cost of constructing a new building will be more cost effective.

“The existing building is not a candidate for rehabilitation,” Kerr said. “We would like to use the funds for construction toward a new facility.”

The BOC approved a resolution, 4-1, with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson voting against, to change language in the SPLOST funding agreement from remodel to new construction.

Henderson asked legal if the change could be made due to rules regarding the spending of SPLOST finances.

“In this situation we’re not looking to substantially change the project,” There’s pertinent case law that the county made reasonable discretion in adjusting the plan.”

The budget amount will still be the same, and the use of the money will still be the same, keeping the SPLOST spending legal, according to county attorney Megan Martin.

Purchasing policy amended

Any expenditure by Newton County in excess of $1 million will need to be approved in two consecutive meetings by at least four commissioners.

That new rule for the BOC was an amendment to the county’s purchasing policy that came after a 5-0 approval Tuesday night.

“The board over the years has been not too hesitant to spend a lot of money on different projects,” District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said. “One particular has been going on for about 18 years or so. It behooves the board of commissioners, this board and future boards, that if we’re going to spend more than $1 million we need to talk about it over two meetings.”

Douglas stated the reason for having spending on large ticket items come in front of the BOC twice is to enable the board to give it a second thought and to allow involvement form the public who would have two weeks to find out about the expenditure.

“I think it’s very important we be better stewards with our money,” Douglas also asked for two consecutive meetings and a super-majority of four commissioners for the hiring of “executive level talent”.

According to Martin, this new policy will be on the BOC’s appointments.
“This puts to the BOC and people front and center when we hire, for example a county attorney or county manager, that we are making double-dog sure we’re hiring the right person,” Douglas said.

The amendment to that policy passed 5-1 with Henderson voting against.

Funds for NCSO

During Tuesday night’s consent agenda, two items were approved to benefit the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
The BOC unanimously approved to apply for a $54,571 Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant and a $710,451.27 Fiscal Year 2016 COPS Hiring Grant.

Also during the consent agenda, which allows commissioners to pass or deny a number of grant approvals, board appointments and minutes all at one time, Sarah Dauby was named to the Library Board as the District 1 appointment.