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County to buy vehicles with '11 SPLOST
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved spending $77,736 in 2011 SPLOST funds to purchase four vehicles.

The four purchases bring the total amount of 2011 SPLOST money spent on vehicles to $1.21 million; the 2011 SPLOST list set aside a total of $2.5 million for vehicles.

The county will purchase a used Jeep Liberty for $18,600 for the county manager, two 2012 Chrysler 200s at $18,675 a piece for investigators with the district attorney's and public defender's offices and a used passenger van for $21,786 general use.

County Manager John Middleton told the board the vehicles for the district attorney's and public defender's offices were both former sheriff's office cars with high mileage and maintenance issues.

The public defender's vehicle had 170,000-plus miles and had been towed a few times from outside the county, which he said made it difficult for investigators to deliver subpoenas and talk to witnesses. The district attorney's vehicle had more than 200,000 miles and needs a transmission replacement which would probably cost more than the two vehicles are worth combined, Middleton said.

The van would ideally carry 12-15 people and would allow employees to carpool to events and training sessions. The county is working with local dealerships to find a used van.
The county previously purchased around 36 vehicles for sheriff's office as well as emergency response vehicles for the fire department and vehicles for public works, Middleton said.

Walker's Bend community center
The board also approved spending $545,000 of 2011 SPLOST money to help build an affordable housing complex and community center in the Walker's Bend neighborhood, off Washington Street just south of the Turner Lake Road intersection. The money was allocated under District 4 improvements.

The 40,000 square foot building had an original budget of $3.6 million, but Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said Tuesday the building had been scaled back and redesigned after some funding fell through.

The $545,000 will go toward building costs, as well as attorney's fees and other "soft" costs, said District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson.

The majority of the building will contain affordable apartments and part of the first floor will be a community center, where job training classes and life skills counseling will be offered. Henderson said Tuesday he believes citizens will see the benefit from the workforce development portion of the building over the next few years.

Chamber update
Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce officials gave the board an update of recent activities and answered questions.

Commissioner Henderson asked how many vacant buildings Newton County had, and Roger Harrison, senior vice president of economic development, said the county maintains a list of available buildings on the state's economic development website.

Harrison said the county has three or four properties available for Caterpillar vendors and suppliers. The company is building a 1-million-square-foot facility near Athens that is expected to directly employ 1,400 workers when completed. Harrison said previously Newton County would work to court associated companies.

He said the county has around four to five prime manufacturing sites, most of which are in Covington's city limits.

Commissioner Lanier Sims said he several land owners around the new Walmart at the intersection of Brown Bridge and Salem roads have been asking how to market their property to prospective commercial buyers.

Sims asked if he should refer them to the chamber, but chamber President Hunter Hall said the chamber would simply pass them on to real estate agents. Hall said some people are simply trying to avoid paying real estate marketing fees and noted that marketing property for private owners could be a conflict of interest and is something chamber officials don't have time to devote to.

Next meeting
The board of commissioners will have a work session at 7 p.m. Monday at the Historic Courthouse to discuss the proposed alcohol ordinance. The board will also have a called meeting to discuss and potentially vote on allowing the Newton County School System to issues a $17.34 million bond, which would be back by ad valorem tax revenue.