COVINGTON, Ga. – County leaders, including members of the of the Newton County Board Of Commissioners and public safety officials gathered with residents Monday night to answer questions at the 2018 Town Hall meeting.
BOC chairman Marcello Banes detailed a list of the county’s recent accomplishments, including the passage of the 2019 fiscal year budget without a millage increase.
“Recently, the board of commissioners passed a budget without raising the millage rate which will benefit with a strong public safety presence,” he said. “The budget included 31 public safety positions and gave us tools to retain our current employees.
“We’ll be able to put more deputies and firefighters on the road and we’re excited about that.”
Banes also talked about county projects either completed or getting underway.
“We feel like the future is bright for Newton County,” he said. “There are a lot of SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) projects that are getting ready to come aboard – the senior center expansion, the new animal control building, the fire station on the north end of the county, the Boys & Girls Club and several parks, as well, are getting ready to go forward in our community.
“There are a lot of things going on and we’re excited about them.”
Sheriff Ezell Brown and Fire Chief Michael Conner briefed those in attendance on their respective departments.
“Our calls for service are down tremendously,” Brown said. “When you look at calls for services, we had over 70,000 back in 2015. I would think that we’re going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 this year.
“The officers are doing great things, but it’s also those community involvement programs that we’re involved in. Going into the communities, giving the citizens to believe in the office of the sheriff each and every day.”
Conner said even as the sheriff’s office’s calls for service are going down, fire and rescue calls are going up. He attributed the increases to the county’s growing population.
“As people increase, the demands on our department increase, because we’re answering more calls,” he said. “In 2017, we increased nearly 2,000 calls from the previous year. Right now we’re on trend to actually break those calls this year. Currently, we answer 2,600-2,700 calls a month. A lot of it is due to the increased types of calls that we run.
“We’re not just running fire calls anymore. It’s fire, EMS, home assists, accident scenes … We’re answering a whole lot more types of calls, so we’re seeing a dramatic increase. Currently, we’re probably exceeding 2017 numbers, by our estimation, by 1,500-2,000 over the last year.”
Among the questions asked was how the county plans to deal with issues that might impede its progress going forward such as landfill debt, housing standards and education and job preparation and race relations.
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said commissioners are working to tackle those issues.
“Chairman Banes, Commissioner (Ronnie) Cowan and I are in strategic planning meetings every other week for up to eight hours, plus the three of us are also on the solid waste authority so in terms of the question regarding the debt, that is something we have to deal with,” she said. “The good news is that we had a stakeholder assessment about a year ago and the stakeholders of the county, in all different types of focus groups, identified those questions and we’re been taking that stakeholder assessment and we’ve been going down point by point.
“We have strategies, we have a three-year plan and we hope to roll all of that out in January along with aligning all the other strategic plans that are in the county so that we’re all moving forward as one Newton.”
The 90-minute forum also addressed questions of affordable housing, development on the county’s west side and the possibility of public transportation and grocery stores on the county’s southern end.
“I’m happy about tonight. I think it was a great success,” Banes said. “The people came out tonight and they talked about the issues that we are currently working on. Their concerns are in line with our strategic plan.
“It makes me feel proud to know that we are that in tune with our community and the needs of our community. There were a lot of questions asked tonight and a lot of information given out. We want to keep doing this. Hopefully, it will get bigger and bigger and it’s something we can build upon. So I’m excited tonight.”
Video of the entire town hall meeting is available on the Newton County website at www.ncboc.com.