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County to buy 34 NCSO cars w/ SPLOST
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Newton County is planning to spend the first of its 2011 SPLOST collections - $811,835 - by purchasing 34 new cars for the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

The money will come from the county's $2.5 million allocation for vehicle replacement.

The county is purchasing Ford Crown Victorias, which will allow it to transfer over the current light and communications packages from the old cars to the new ones. Purchasing new light and communications equipment would have cost an additional $9,000 per car.

The county bought nine cars from Allan Vigil Ford in Morrow, Ga. for $210,075; 12 cars from Brannen Motor Company in Unadilla, Ga. for $273,575; and another 13 cars for $328,185. The cars will be painted Arizona Beige to match the current sheriff's fleet.

The county has more than 600 vehicles, many of them sheriff's office patrol cars. Originally, Chairman Kathy Morgan said the $2.5 million vehicle replacement allocation would allow the county to replace around 100 vehicles, assuming an average cost of $25,000. The 34 Crown Victorias being purchased cost an average of $23,877.

City, county discuss access to square

Covington and county officials again met to discuss the role and organization of Main Street Covington, this time focusing on Commissioner Mort Ewing's complaint that Main Street restricts access to the square, which is a county-owned public park.

Morgan said the committee agreed that the rules regarding access to the square should be agreed upon in a separate contract. The issue had held up an intergovernmental agreement clarifying the relationship between the city, county and Main Street; however, the path appears clear for that agreement to be signed by all parties after nearly a year and a half of discussion.

The heart of the agreement clarifies what the city and county pay for and who the Main Street director reports to. The need for a contract was two-fold: no formal contract existed (only a verbal agreement) and the city wanted to move forward with plans that the county could not afford to fund a 50 percent share of.

Final 2005 SPLOST numbers

The final total collection for the 2005 SPLOST was $61,659,847, nearly $3 million more than the original $58.8 projection.

The additional $2.85 million will go to pay down debt on the Newton County Administration Building, but it will not cover the entire debt. The 2011 SPLOST also allocated $5 million to pay off debt on the administration building.

The building cost $13.43 million to build, and was bonded, with only $5 million be allocated directly in the 2005 SPLOST.

The majority of projects from the 2005 SPLOST were completed. The proposed civic center is the main exception, but the county will has until June 30, 2016 to complete it. If unspent, the $5 million would be used to pay debt or to reduce property taxes if the county had no debt.

The other uncompleted projects are road projects. Similarly, the city of Covington will spend its remaining $2.45 million of 2005 SPLOST money this year.

Census count challenge

Newton County officials are still gathering information before they decide whether to appeal the official 2010 Census count of 99,958 residents.

When the numbers were released, local officials were surprised that Newton County was not above the 100,000 population mark.

Geographic Information Systems employee Ernie Smith has found areas where the Census' count is off. For example, in one small census block on the county's western edge, the census data says that the area has four housing units and that only one person lives there. However, according to the county's maps, the Lakeview Trail area has 11 apartment complex buildings and 17 single-family houses.

Despite finding these months ago, Smith said he has had to double check every census tract.

"It's easy to identify census blocks where there was an undercount...The census will try to deflect our challenge by saying those addresses were counted in other areas," said Smith. "By its nature, (a challenge) is an adversarial type of relationship."

The county, and other governments, has two years to challenge the counts. By the time it's all said and done, Smith's best guess is that he'll come up with a number close to 101,000 residents, as of 2010.