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Mayors discuss SPLOST, railroad
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The county is having a SPLOST work session at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Historic Courthouse, and Newton County’s mayors are preparing to make a united stand to make sure they receive their fair share of SPLOST dollars.

At the bi-monthly mayor’s meeting, Covington Mayor Kim Carter said the county is given an advantage in determining SPLOST projects, because it’s the county board of commissioners that approves a list of projects and calls for a referendum.

Oxford has already submitted its list of projects to the county, including a request for a new water main alongside Emory Street that would replace 80-year-old infrastructure. Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said there is simply no grant money available for these types of projects, so the SPLOST is the only option, outside of taking out loans.

Carter agreed the city needed those pipes, but she said in many ways the SPLOST is no loner being used as frequently for roads, bridges and infrastructure, and she would like the mayors to give some consideration to greenspace projects. Each city needs to submit its list of projects to the county soon.

Railroad update

Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan said his city and the non-profit Newton County Trails-Path Foundation continue to meet with Norfolk Southern in an attempt to purchase the section of railroad running through the county that is no longer used.

He said the groups have retained attorneys and are looking into the legal implications of purchasing the railroad, including any complications that may stem from the fact Norfolk Southern is looking into discontinuance instead of abandonment.

Sheridan said they received a full plat of the railroad, and Carter said the city and county’s joint Geographic Information System department has almost completed its task of creating a digital copy of the plat. The railroad corridor is composed of 532 parcels, Sheridan said. Norfolk Southern will take Sheridan and members of the Trails Foundation and other cities on a tour of the tracks soon.

Finally, Sheridan said his group met with U.S. Congressman Jim Marshall (D-Macon) and discovered that the grants Marshall secured are good for another couple of years. However, he said it’s still a "nebulous situation," and legal issues still need to be resolved.

Pensions and Insurance

Oxford is joining Covington in deciding it needs to switch to a defined-contribution plan and away from a defined-benefit retirement plan. Roseberry said Oxford’s retirement costs have doubled in last five years from around $46,000 to $80,000 per year, and the costs are continuing to grow.

"We’re not in trouble at the moment, but you can get in trouble really quick," Roseberry said.

Porterdale City Manager Bob Thompson said his city is also examining a switch, with the help of Covington City Manager Steve Horton. Covington plans to make a switch by Jan. 1.

In addition, Roseberry said the city is considering cutting back on its health insurance coverage. The city provides 100 percent of costs, but Roseberry said that leads to a lot of people taking the city’s health insurance whether they need it or not

Porterdale pays 80 percent of its employees’ costs, and Councilman Robert Foxworth said it’s important for employees to contribute to their insurance. Roseberry said he learned the same lesson with his private business, where three employees left his health insurance plan and switched to a spouse’s, once he no longer funded 100 percent of costs.

Finally, he said Oxford is going to continue to use temporary workers to do manually-intensive work in departments like sanitation. He said cities can get in trouble when they hire full-time workers for those positions, because as the workers age they lose their physical ability to do the work but don’t have the skills to be transferred elsewhere. Carter said Covington also hires temp workers for some of its positions.

The next mayor’s meeting will take place at 10 a.m., Nov. 5 at Covington City Hall.