SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. – Residents in Newton County’s Commission District 1 got the opportunity to hear directly from their commissioner about a range of topics Thursday night during a town hall meeting at Crossroads Baptist Church in Social Circle.
After explaining to how to navigate and use the county’s new website, Commissioner Stan Edwards told those assembled that Newton County is on better financial footing than at any time in recent years.
“We had an audit not too long ago and the auditor, and I’ll paraphrase some of the auditor’s words, but the auditor, his findings were very positive for the county,” he said. "In fact, they found zero significant issues with our audit this year, unlike last year and the previous years.
“In the auditing world and the accounting world, negative findings are just not good. Up until this year, there were a couple of findings that now we have moved away from and he gave us basically a clean bill of health.”
Edwards said the county is currently operating with a budget surplus.
“At the moment, we are operating, as of the end of January, we are operating at a $2.6 million surplus,” he said. "That’s quite a change from previous years, a $2.6 million surplus.
“Not to get too excited, some of that is unfilled positions within the county, particularly in law enforcement. So, while I believe some of the things we have done have put us on track to be operating at a slight surplus right now, I don’t think realistically speaking, operationally speaking, we’re not at a $2.6 million surplus right now.
“But we are in a good place, a much better place than we have been in previous years and I believe it’s because of some of the things the Board has been able to put into place in terms of in terms of our contingency funds, putting money away for a rainy day, paying down debt, those types of things that have put us in a better financial position.”
Edwards also said this year the county will start receiving tax revenue from Tekeda, formerly known as Shire, in Stanton Springs.
“Now that’s a graduated, for 20 years, that is a graduated amount of money," he said. "And that amount of money goes up into the lottery type of millions at some point.
“It will gradually go up. Let me tell you, that’s nice from a county perspective, but it’s even nicer from a school system perspective because they’ll get more money than we will. We invested in that infrastructure and we are on the absolute cusp of seeing a return on that investment.”
He also talked about the impact that Facebook will have will have on county finances.
“They will implement a PILOT program - payment in lieu of taxes,” he said. "What happens with that is that is they have five phases, and when the first phase is built, they’ll pay that portion of their PILOT money.
“Now, when that first building is complete, if they don’t finish another building, they will still pay the payments, the PILOT on all five. That is a $42 billion with a 'B' complex. To put it in a little perspective, Shire was unbelievably large and it’s only going to end up being $1.4 billion.”
In the nearly 90-minute session, Edwards touched on a variety of topics from the county’s current apartment moratorium to the strides made by the county making the Gaither’s at Myrtle Creek Farm facility into a go-to event space for people from Newton County and beyond.
“If you’ve never been out there, it’s absolutely beautiful, stunningly beautiful,” he said. “We’ve got the old plantation home itself full of history. We’ve got a pavilion where you can hold all types of activities. We’ve weddings planned there this spring, summer and fall.
“If you want to rent the place for some type of corporate activity or family activity that is the place. That is an absolutely wonderful place to go out there. I think it’s a great resource.”
Edwards also said that wireless broadband internet is coming to rural parts of the county starting this spring from a company called Paladin Wireless through leased county-owned radio frequencies.
“One of my priorities for 2018 rural broadband internet for the people of Newton County that didn’t have anything, not just for District 1 but for the whole county,” he said.
Edwards said he met with the owner of the wireless company who explained how the technology works.
“The technology is large area wifi. This guy takes wifi and projects it out miles. And it’s secured wifi,” he said. "And you have a small box antenna. If you're close enough, the antennae is in the house. But if not, you’ll have an antenna on the side of your house mounted and it’s wired into the house.”
Edwards said it’s time for people in the rural part of Newton County to have access to the internet.
“We’ve got Facebook and Shire right here and people 100 yards through the woods don’t have any internet,” he said. “Kids have to do school work at home online. You can get degrees online, you can shop online. You can do all kinds of things online but you’ve got people here that don’t have any internet in 2019.”
Edwards said costs for the plans are expected to range from $39-$39 per month. He said for more information people can go to the Paladin Wireless website at http://paladinwireless.com. There is also a Paladin Wireless Newton County Facebook page.