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Newton cities seeking larger share of 2023 SPLOST
Covington says it is where most of sales tax is collected, sees more impact on infrastructure and services
SPLOST meeting
Oxford Mayor David Eady speaks as elected and appointed officials from Covington, Newborn, Porterdale and Social Circle listen in during a June 27 meeting with the Newton County Board of Commissioners about the division of 2023 SPLOST proceeds. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Covington has joined with the other cities in Newton County to seek a larger share of SPLOST collections that could total $108 million over six years if approved by voters in November.

Mayor Steve Horton joined with Covington city attorney Robert Stansfield to tell the Newton County Board of Commissioners recently the six cities all or partly within the county’s borders need 24% of the money — an additional $6.5 million — that will be collected over the six-year life of the 1% sales tax.

County officials said if the total amount was divided as it was in 2016 — according to the percentages of city and unincorporated county dwellers — the cities would share only 18% of the amount based on the 2020 census. 

The census showed 18% of the county’s total population lived within the six cities in Newton County in 2020 — a decrease from 25% living in cities in 2010. 

County officials estimated they would receive $89 million because 82% live in unincorporated Newton while the cities would receive $19 million if calculated solely on a population split. However, the cities’ request would give them $26 million.

A Wednesday, July 6, work session is scheduled to discuss any changes they wanted to make to the list and possibly vote on a final list July 12.

County attorney Aaron Meyer said the Board must complete negotiations over the split of the proceeds, approve an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the cities and choose the final projects for funding by July 19.

“If we don’t have an IGA for the project list, we have to wait until the next election,” he told the Board recently.

In a state-mandated meeting between the county and cities June 27, Covington officials said their city is where most of the sales tax will be collected. 

It also sustains more wear and tear on its infrastructure than the unincorporated county and needs more funding to pay for road repairs and public services.

“The allocations set forth in the draft intergovernmental agreement ... are based solely upon population and are the minimum allocations to which municipalities are entitled under (state law),” Covington’s law firm stated in a letter to the county’s law firm.

“Taxable transactions within the city of Covington account for the vast majority of those transactions, with resulting impacts on Covington’s infrastructure and public services.”

It stated that projects the city of Covington plans to fund with its share of the SPLOST “are limited exclusively to projects of great value to Newton County as a whole” such as improvements to Turner Lake Road that non-Covington residents use to access I-20; the joint city-county E-911 center; and the joint city-county Highway 278 Community Improvement District project which encompasses a major sales tax-generating corridor.

Horton told commissioners on June 27 the county’s senior center and ballfields in the Turner Lake complex “generates a fair amount of traffic” on Turner Lake Road while the City Pond ballfield complex produces sometimes heavy traffic on City Pond Road inside Covington.

He noted a major economic development project also could be built on City Pond Road which would require improvements to the road.

“We’re trying to look out for not just today, but tomorrow, on these projects,” Horton said.

Stansfield told commissioners June 27 that funding of the 278 CID was needed to make U.S. Hwy. 278 “approachable for consumers" of goods and services at the retailers and restaurants that operate on it. 

“If it’s not approachable for consumers, people won’t want to shop there (and) those revenues might be diminished,” Stansfield said.

Representatives of other cities said they supported Covington’s request. 

Newborn Mayor Gregg Ellwanger said he supported Covington’s request. He told the Board his town on the county’s eastern border has about $120,000 in projects it wants to complete with SPLOST proceeds including repaving North Johnson Street and doing some renovations to its Historic Schoolhouse and city hall.

Oxford Mayor David Eady said the city has plans to redo Soule Street to make it part of a “regional” economic development project that will include access to a planned recreation trail along Dried Indian Creek. 

It also wants to use the money to maintain Asbury Street Park which he said was “one of the most utilized parks in Newton County,” Eady said.

Porterdale City Manager Frank Etheridge said the town wants to put top coats of asphalt on some residential streets the county had approved in the past. It also plans to use its money for such projects as construction of a larger city hall. The current city hall is a converted fire station, Etheridge said.

Social Circle Fire Chief Kenneth Zaydel said the city needs funding because of future development forecast in the mostly undeveloped part of the city within Newton County. Social Circle has developed mostly in Walton County. 

After the meeting, District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said he had just heard the cities’ request for the first time but he believed an agreement county be reached.  Edwards’ district includes Newborn and Mansfield — which also supported Covington’s request.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes said he anticipated an agreement being reached on a split that is agreeable to all.

“We look forward to working with the cities and getting a SPLOST deal,” he said. 

He said it was “OK” that the cities wanted 24% compared to the 18% the county was anticipating from the total.

“We’ll get it worked out,” Banes said. “We believe we’re one Newton family and we’ll get it done.”

The Board will have the final say on what projects will be presented to voters as part of the referendum for renewal of the SPLOST in November.

Special projects consultant Jeff Prine of Ascension Program Management asked commissioners to make their decisions early enough to give him the time to review them to see if the projects recommended could be built with the money reserved for them. Prine had worked with the advisory committee for the same purpose.

Advisory committee Chairman Baxter Bouchillon said the seven-member panel worked to balance needed projects with what members believed voters would support when choosing whether to renew the 1% sales tax on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Projects and planned expenditures the advisory committee recommended for the county government include $30 million for road improvements, $12 million for replacement vehicles for the sheriff’s office and Fire Services, $10.2 million for a Westside park project and upgrades to the Animal Services building, county parks, the county library system and more.