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Newton board approves new bridge, rejects waiving late tax payment fees
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. -- A familiar builder will construct a new Brown Bridge Road bridge over the Yellow River.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 5, voted to accept the low bid of $8.1 million from Wright Brothers Construction Co. to replace the current 60-year-old bridge.

The total cost of $8,109,119 will include about $6.5 million from the Atlanta Regional Commission and the remaining $1.6 million from Newton County's 2017 SPLOST collections.

Wright Brothers will have two years to complete the project from the date of its Notice to Proceed -- which will be given after the Board approves a contract with the company and a construction contract with Georgia Department of Transportation, county officials said.

Costs of grading, pre-stressed beams and concrete comprised almost half the cost of the replacement for the current structure, according to a bid form.

Wright Brothers was the low bidder among six seeking the project, with bids ranging from $11.8 million to $8.1 million.

The current bridge was built in 1962 and carries an average of about 14,000 vehicles per day.

A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that helps guide funding policies for local and state governments rated the Brown Bridge Road structure among the worst bridges in Newton County because the federal government classified it as deficient and carried more than 10,000 vehicles per day.

Wright Brothers built the recently completed Ga. Hwy. 81 bridge over the South River connecting Newton and Henry counties.

Also Tuesday, the Board also heard an update on the distribution of federal COVID relief funds and an agreement with the Salvation Army's Covington branch to distribute it.

County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said the Salvation Army wanted 15% of the initial $700,000 it will distribute to do the work. 

He said the agency has been working for two weeks to complete the paperwork required for the job.

"We'll be ready when they're ready," he said.

In addition, Jaugstetter said he recommended the agency require applicants to have no more than 150% of the county's median family income to qualify for funding. That amount was based on what is required to qualify for Federal Housing Assistance Fund, he said.

The Board also voted Tuesday against waiving penalties and interest on more than $2,100 in unpaid property taxes since 2016 on property on Mote Road.

Tax Commissioner Marcus Jordan said state law allowed property owner Linda Elnabarawy to appeal to the Board to waive the costs associated with unpaid taxes if "the default giving rise to the penalty or interest was due to reasonable cause."

The amount of unpaid taxes totals $2,164.72 on the property at 3835 Mote Road. The owner was asking for a waiver of the penalties and interest but not the tax bill, Jordan said.

A spokesperson for the landowner said she was unable to pay because she had been sick and unable to work recently. 

However, Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said he believed waiving the fees would set a bad precedent for the county tax commissioner's office.

"My heart goes out," Cowan said.

"(But) we're not in the business of financing tax bills. I don't think we're going to open a door that we don't want to open," he said.