COVINGTON, Ga. - The Newton County Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA) voted 3-2 to authorize preparations for a $25 million bond issuance Thursday night.
The votes to approve the bond issuance were cast by the three elected members of the authority, Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Marcello Banes and Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims. Citizen members Bob Stafford and Phil Wise voted against the measure.
County Public Information Officer Bryan Fazio provided a breakdown of what the $25 million will go for:
- Refinancing of GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) loan - $3,380,557
- Excavation and Reclamation Phase 1 at the landfill – $9,927,821
- Landfill Acquisition - $10,212,215
- Total - $23,420,593
According to Fazio, the remainder of the money from the bond issuance will go toward paying fees associated with the issuance of the bonds.
Fazio said the SWMA is a separate entity from the BOC and therefore purchased the landfill from the county.
He said the money generated by the landfill sale will be used by the county to pay the settlement with East Georgia Land and Development Company. The settlement was negotiated and signed April 10.
Bond Counsel Roger Murray told the members that the sole security for the bonds is the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the BOC and the SWMA. He said the bonds are being sold on the basis the county will agree to pay the authority the amount sufficient to pay principle and interest on the bonds as it comes due.
Murray said under a proposed amendment to the IGA, the authority agrees, to the extent funds are available, it will make payments on the bonds.
SWMA Chairman Wayne Haynie told members he disagrees with the bond issuance. He called the plan unfair, reckless and unnecessarily confusing.
“The lawsuit with East Georgia Land Development vs Newton County has been a 20-year marathon and actually the pace to settle it now amounts to a 40-yard dash. We’re asking that a different entity, the Solid Waste Authority, issue debt to remedy a lawsuit that we’re not even a party to,” he said.
“The rate payers should not bear the cost of that legal settlement. And that’s what’s left us at this place. This is definitely an uncomfortable rush to settle the case and the Solid Waste Authority appears the convenient outlet.”
Haynie suggested that the lawsuit could be handled with a structured settlement and asked that the SWMA be cut loose from the legal settlement and allowed to get on with the business of solid waste, or be abolished.
“This is not what we envisioned our mission to be,” he said, “it’s pretty obvious that our non-Board of Commissioner members have questioned their role with two very thoughtful, valuable members have departed.”
Schulz disagreed with Haynie’s characterization of the bond issue.
“Counsel came before this body prior to negotiating the settlement with East Georgia and asked for our approval moving forward, indicating that a bond issue would be part of a negotiation to repay the settlement,” she said.
“This body agreed to that. I think if we do not move forward with what we, in good faith, agreed to then we’re a body that’s not operating in good faith and we’ve let our legal counsel down. We’ve let the citizens down because a settlement was made based on our agreement with a bond issuance.
Wise asked about the possibility of delaying the vote until more information could be obtained.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr told the authority the county is under pressure from the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to start work on the excavation and reclamation at the landfill. He said the bonds would be used as the source of funds for that work.
“You all know the reclamation has to be done. We’re under a consent order to do so,” he said.
The next scheduled meeting of the SWMA is June 15.