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Banes: ‘Newton County is headed in the right direction’
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes presents the State of the County address Tuesday morning at the Turner Lake Complex. - photo by Darryl Welch
“We want to make it a team. We want to make sure we operate as a team."
Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes

COVINGTON, Ga. – Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes praised county employees, highlighted progress and looked toward the future Tuesday morning during his inaugural State of the County presentation.

Speaking before a large crowd of citizens, community leaders and county employees in the meeting room at Turner Lake Park, Banes said it is important for citizens to have information about their county.

“I think it’s important for the citizens, the stakeholders, the taxpayers to know the direction their county is going in,” he said. “We want to be as transparent as we possibly can. We don’t want to hide anything. We want to make sure our government is an open government."

Banes praised the county’s public safety employees working to keep Newton County safe while understaffed.

“In 2017, our public safety personnel kept the citizens safe answering an increased number of calls. Our sheriff’s deputies responded to 60,347 calls. Our firefighters responded to 7,495 calls,” he said. “Both of these departments are very understaffed. The sheriff has said many times he needs more deputies so everybody knows that. We’ve got to do something about it.

“I don’t know if you ever heard the fire chief say it, but he needs more firemen. We don’t have enough firemen on the truck. We need more firemen on the truck. When you make that call to 911, six or seven minutes, you’re looking for somebody to be there, with a hose in their hands or with a gun on their side. You need somebody to be there. Sometimes it’s a life or death emergency.

“These departments truly need to be recognized for the job they have done over the last year while understaffed.”

Banes praised the teamwork of the current Board of Commissioners.

“I truly believe that this is one of the best Boards I’ve seen,” he said. “We all work together. You know, everybody’s going to have their moments when they spit and spat, but I can tell you that this Board works in unity.

“This is an exciting time for me. I’m excited about this Board. We do things together. We work well together. I think over the years, this county has been waiting for a team that would work together and not fuss and fight all the time.”

Banes devoted part of his presentation to highlight progress made on issues the county was facing a year ago. He cited the county’s $10 million settlement of a years-old lawsuit which could have resulted in a regional landfill in Newton County.

“We got our attorneys together and they got their attorneys together and we agreed to pay $10 million to Green Hill,” he said, “And we received their land and there will never be a regional landfill in our community.

“I think it was a great win for our community.”

Banes also pointed to a recent move by the board of commissioners to authorize working toward an agreement with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to use county-owned land purchased for the Bear Creek reservoir as a wildlife management area until it is needed for water.

“We’re not selling the land,” he said. “We’re allowing them to lease the land until we can actually use that land in case we need a reservoir in the future.”

Teamwork and building relationships were recurring themes during the presentation as Banes praised the community’s response to storms that wreaked havoc on the county in 2017.

“Y’all remember the storm that we had, Tropical Storm Irma? A team of people responded. From Newton County roads department, from the City of Covington, from the sheriff’s office, I think we had some guys from Social Circle, they all got together and they worked as a team. And this is what it’s all about, teamwork, “he said. “From the highest level down to the employee level.

“It’s a theme we’ve got going on – we call it 'One Newton.' We want everybody to hear it and jump on it. If you hear somebody talk about ‘One Newton’ hopefully it’ll put a smile on your face because we’re trying to build relationships throughout the community.”

Looking toward the future, Banes pointed to 553 residential building permits issued in the county in 2017 along with 433 new business permits.

“We’re getting back on the right track. We’re going in the right direction,” he said.

Banes thanked the community for passing the 2017 SPLOST referendum and highlighted some of the county projects that will benefit from the money.

 “Because of citizens like yourselves who went out and supported SPLOST, we’re headed in the right direction. These are projects that we could not do without you affording us the opportunity to get it done,” he said.

Among the SPLOST funded projects Banes mentioned were transportation, upgrades to the E911 Communication Center, the county library and the Yellow River Trail.

Toward the end of his presentation Banes praised the county’s economic development team and talked about the impact of the recent announcement that Facebook will be locating a data center in Newton County will have on the community.

“I think Facebook coming to our community is great for our community,” he said.

“Facebook here in our community along with Shire, our Economic Development team is doing a great job.”

Banes also said Shire is set to receive FDA approval to allow it to start selling product.

“And that’s a good thing for us because we’ll start receiving tax dollars. Are y’all ready to start receiving tax dollars,” he said to laughs.

In closing, Banes said “I think Newton County is headed in the right direction, but we’ve got to continue to build. The only way we can continue to build is that you build with us. We need you to be successful. We can’t do it by ourselves. We don’t want to do it by ourselves.

“We want to make it a team. We want to make sure we operate as a team."

Finally, Banes thanked those who came to the presentation.

“I’m so thankful that you came out this morning to hear about your county because this is your county. You are the stakeholders. I truly believe that. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here. So we want to thank you for caring enough to come hear about what’s been transpiring over the last year.”