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BOC approves public safety personnel increases

COVINGTON, Ga. - The courthouse will get additional bailiffs and more firefighters will be responding to county emergencies after the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved public safety staffing increases Dec. 5.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the requests by Sheriff Ezell Brown and Fire Chief Michael Conner for additional personnel to staff the expansion of the Newton County Justice Center and a new fire station that will be constructed on the north end of the county.

Brown said the personnel increases are vital to keeping the courthouse safe.

“Thirty six percent of our population passes our judicial center every month,” he said, “When we add that new building and we put it all together with additional courtrooms, I’m anticipating that it’s going to increase another ten percent. We need qualified individuals, trained individuals to go into court services who know exactly what they’re looking for, how to handle the public, how to handle the inmates each and every day.

“We will need our officers, and we will need them to be ready when the courthouse opens- not hire them the day that it opens. But have them trained and ready to hit the ground running when the courthouse opens.”

Brown said the new positions will be funded utilizing salary savings from this fiscal year’s vacancies within his department. The cost for the new positions for the last six months of FY 2018 is $248,734.

Commissioners also approved new positions for Fire Services. County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the new firefighters will be used to staff the yet to be built Fire Station 8 and a new 3,000 water tanker the county is acquiring through a grant.

“These are the numbers we will need in order to man station 8, which is the new north Newton County station, as well as our new tanker truck,” he said.

Kerr said obtaining the tanker was extremely important for fire protection in the county.

“We still have properties out there that are not covered by county water,” he said, “Unfortunately, we had a recent incident where there was a home that was a complete loss because the closest fire hydrant was 2.5 miles away and we had to ferry (water) 300 gallons at a time.

“This tanker holds 3,000 gallons, which we should not be running out of water.”

Kerr said the $321,737 price tag for the new positions, which include 12 firefighters, three lieutenants, six engineers and one EMS instructor will be funded for the rest of this fiscal year by $107,020 in salary savings from vacancies and $214,717 in funding from insurance tax proceeds.

Conner told commissioners the best strategic location for the new fire station is at Gum Creek Road and Macedonia Church Road. He said the reason is because of ISO rating.

“Right now, Newton County is a 5/9,” he said, “If you’re within five miles of a fire station, you fall within that Class 5, which is an annual savings on your insurance rate depending on what size house you have.”

Conner said the new fire station will touch a lot of residents that have never been in a Class 5 area, including homes in Haynes Creek, Gum Creek Road and Hwy.138.

“Those are areas where a lot of citizens are paying a whole lot more in insurance rates for the simple fact they fall in that Class 9,” he said, “We’ve been doing strategic studies to see where to put the station.”

The new fire station will be built using funds from the 2011 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).