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Newton commissioners end delay, approve bond funding for new fire station
Newton County Historic Courthouse
Newton County Historic Courthouse - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he was “a man of his word” Tuesday, Feb. 16, before he led the county commission in voting to guarantee bond financing for a new fire station in eastern Newton.

He was part of the Newton County Board of Commissioners' unanimous vote to guarantee the Public Facilities Authority’s issuance of almost $5 million in bonds for construction of Fire Station No. 4 on a five-acre site on Big Woods Road.

But Henderson and other commissioners also received commitments from County Manager Lloyd Kerr Tuesday to begin work on finding financing for the millions of dollars’ worth of projects they proposed.

Henderson and other Authority members had delayed a vote on the bond issuance Jan. 19 after saying they wanted the same consideration given to recreation projects in their districts as given to the fire station.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards — whose district includes the fire station site — vocally objected and accused them of holding the station “hostage” by using their votes on the fire station bonds to bargain for their projects’ funding.

East Newton residents also sharply criticized Henderson and commissioners Alana Sanders and Demond Mason on social media for delaying the action — leading Mason to issue a public statement Feb. 2 saying he had voted to approve the station in 2020 and its funding would be approved.

Henderson on Tuesday, Feb. 16, said there was “no way” he was holding the fire station “hostage” and noted he also approved the station in 2020. 

He then made the motion to approve the bond financing during the Authority meeting and, later, when the full commission voted to approve it.

“I said I was going to support it,” he said. “I’m a man of my word.”

Kerr said he researched available grant funding and other alternatives to bonds or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds since the Jan. 19 meeting. 

He said he found grants available for trail construction and furnishings for community centers and gyms — but none for new construction.

In addition, he found that those interested in corporate funding of projects typically would have to wait for corporations to invite proposals — and nonprofits mostly were the recipients.

He noted that funding for large capital projects typically took months to secure. Officials began work to find funding for the fire station in early 2020 and was using proceeds from a county fire tax to make the payments on the bonds, he said.

The county reportedly saw the need for the station after the Insurance Services Office (ISO) revised its fire service rating for the area following the closing of a volunteer fire department station on Dixie Road.

The new station is anticipated to be similar in design to station No. 8 that is under construction on Gum Creek Road in northern Newton County.