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Local mayors give updates at group meeting
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Newton County’s six mayors, including Social Circle, held their bi-monthly meeting in Social Circle Friday to provide city updates and discuss common issues.

One such issue is the county’s revised schedule for the opening of recycling centers and the landfill. During the county’s budget cuts, it instituted 15 unpaid holidays for all county employees, and those days were also applied to the recycling centers and the landfill. The centers had always been closed on major holidays, but a handful of smaller holidays were also added.

In August, commissioners Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson expressed concern about these extra closed days, because they had received numerous complaints from residents. The schedule was not changed at the time, but Fleming asked for it to be revisited.

On Friday, the county’s mayors expressed their concern with the closed days. Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said none of the cities were asked how the extra closed days would affect them, and in fact, the closings have proved to be a major inconvenience.

Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby said he understood that the county was trying to save money, but he hoped they would be willing to sit down and come to some sort of compromise that would have the least amount of impact on cities.

Porterdale Councilman Robert Foxworth said he had seen a huge column of bags piled outside a recycling center when it was closed one day, and the extra work to clean up those bags could negate the ability to save money.

Covington Mayor Kim Carter said she would call the county to set up a meeting. The mayors also considered writing a joint letter asking for a meeting.

The group also discussed the updated service delivery strategy that was being put together by Newton County and its cities. The service delivery strategy dictates how services, like utilities, are handled throughout the county.

Social Circle Mayor Jim Burgess said he had a problem with the strategy and the law behind it, because it gives too much power to the counties. Social Circle recently annexed significant acreage in Newton County, but he said the ability to provide services in that land belonged to the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority.

Currently, there are no utilities in the area, so if a developer wants to build out there, he would have to convince the NCWSA to build water and sewer pipes out there, because Social Circle would not be allowed to build any infrastructure itself.

Covington, Porterdale and Oxford are in similar situations, because the NCWSA owns the rights to much of the land surrounding them.
Burgess said he feels the current service delivery strategy law restricts the growth of cities around the state. He said he believes the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has a strategy of containment of cities, because that tips the balance of power in the counties’ favor. He said he wouldn’t mind the NCWSA servicing the area if they already had utilities out there, but because the land is devoid of infrastructure, he feels cities should be able to build on, or in this case under, land they own.

He said discussions with the NCWSA have broken down, but he will continue to work toward an agreement. The other mayors and city managers agreed they had run into similar problems, but the law will have to be changed at the state level before any local changes occur.

In individual city news, Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan said the first council meeting since the election of an entirely new council and mayor was very well attended. He said the new members are getting an education, but they are sticking with their promise to get the residents more involved.

One thing he has learned since taking office is that no special local option sales tax was spent by Newborn last year. He said the city is planning on using that chunk of money to fix some streets and sidewalks that people have been complaining about for a long time. He hoped projects would get started in 30 to 60 days.

For Oxford, Roseberry said the building of a new city hall was being delayed by the rain, which was the biggest news. He said a previously applied for grant to help extend the city’s sewer system was still pending.

In Covington, Carter recapped the city’s success with the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in Walker’s Bend. She said the city had received some negative press about the planning retreat for the council and mayor scheduled for March, but she said previous years’ retreats led to the recent success in bringing in the $9 million senior affordable housing complex in the Harristown neighborhood.

Mansfield Mayor Bill Cocchi said not much was going on in his small city, but there was a major spring clean-up planned.  He said the city would work on cleaning up cars, yards and homes.

In Porterdale, Foxworth said 2010 would be a busy year with more than 10 events planned. He said the city is making an effort to get residents more involved.

The mayors will hold their next meeting March 5 at 10 a.m. at the Mansfield Community Center.