The Newton County Board of Commissioners held a retreat at the Fire Services Administration Building Wednesday, discussing some of the most important topics facing the county.
Overseen by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and its Executive Director James Dove, the meeting went on for more than six hours with commissioners agreeing to courses of action on several of the topics.
Board of Commissioner members decided to gather information on water resources from joint meetings with the water authority and the city of Covington, while gathering all data on future water decisions. The board also started discussing possible dates for a SPLOST referendum, with an agreement to shoot for May 24, 2016.
Other actions are working with the form of government committee’s recommendation at a work session Monday, let County Manager Harry Owens develop a strategy to charge for decals for the convenience centers and present it at the Nov. 3 BOC meeting, and have Harbin Engineering put out a Request for Quote for landfill operations.
Solid waste was the biggest topic for Wayne Tamplin of Treadwell and Tamplin, who presented the county’s finances during the retreat’s morning session.
He told the board that expenditures had been lowered throughout the last three years, but revenues still needed to be raised. He then pointed to use of the fund balance in 2013, 2014 and 2015, bringing the reserve fund balance to 11.83 percent. According to Tamplin, when the commission set its fund balance policy it said it wanted to stay between 15-22 percent.
“It can affect the bond rating, potentially costing more to borrow in the future, particularly if it gets below 10 percent,” Tamplin said. “We’re at the level where you need to start monitoring it and building it up.”
A possible prohibiting factor from building the reserve fund from general fund excesses in the future is SPLOST moneys ending on the Newton County jail leaving a roughly $8,000,000 debt.
Tamplin then told the board that the water fund is bringing in money while the solid waste fund is not. When Chairman Keith Ellis brought up building back up the fund balance in order to have better borrowing power if it was needed for solid waste, Tamplin replied that enterprise funds stand on their own for borrowing.
“I don’t know how you would get bonds on (solid waste) anyway because there isn’t a reliable revenue stream to show you can pay it back,” Tamplin said. “Without a reliable revenue stream, I don’t know how you’re going to borrow it.”
James Brown was up next at the retreat, telling the board of the water use from the Cornish Creek plant and that to reach its maximum capacity of 25 million gallons per day it would need to upgrade the chlorine system; upgrade solids handling capacity; increase the size of emergency back-up generator; upgrade high service pumping capacity and increase size of the transmission line; increase raw water intake capability; and other chemical system upgrades.
He also listed concerns on the Williams Street Water Treatment Facility stating it needed assessment of: raw water transmission from City Pond to Williams Street; raw water intake at City Pond; remaining storage capacity of City Pond; booster pump at City Pond to Williams Street; raw water transmission from the Alcovy River to City Pond; and raw water intake at Alcovy River.
In a letter laying out these issues to the board, Brown wrote, that he “recommended to the BOC that we invite all members of the Newton County Consecutive Water System, including the City of Covington and Newton County Water and Sewer Authority, to have a seat at the table as we discuss insuring an adequate water supply for the citizens of Newton County.
County Attorney W. T. “Tommy” Craig then laid out the process of the 404 permit for the Bear Creek Reservoir supply project, urging the board not to give up.
“In Athens we got to the point where elected official from four counties were ready to throw in the towel,” Craig said. “People are that way; people can be discouraged and try not to persist. I say to you it’s not that way. If you stay the course you win, if you quit you never win.”
Ronnie Cowan was the next guest presenter at the retreat, answering questions about the citizen committee’s form of government report.
Among the items on the report were putting the day-to-day operation of the county under a county manager and giving the county chairman veto power on votes made by the BOC of 3-2.
Commissioner John Douglas said he thought that proposed chairman should have a lower salary and that he didn’t understand why under the new guidelines the chair would have veto powers.
“Frankly it doesn’t make sense for me that they would strip all authority away from the chairman and then turn around and give him veto authority,” Douglas said.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz and Ellis said they think the chairman should be full time even if he had his power stripped due to the amount of people who would need his attention and the number of meetings required to attend.
Schulz, Douglas, Sims and Levie Maddox all agreed with most of the form of government’s proposal and wanted to use it as a baseline for a form of government work session scheduled for Monday.
J.C. Henderson, however, didn’t think a new form of government was needed, saying, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” He then asked if the requirement for changing the charter was a 4-1 vote or if a unanimous vote was needed.