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Newton SPLOST oversight board questions aquatic center costs, location
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — SPLOST Oversight Committee members questioned the recurring costs and the planned location of a proposed aquatic center as they recently discussed adding it to the projects for funding with a 1% sales tax up for renewal in 2022.

The committee, which recommends projects for funding with the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, met for its quarterly meeting May 10 and discussed the proposed aquatic center project.

District 2 County Commissioner Demond Mason has pushed for construction of an aquatic center on county-owned land at Denny Dobbs Park since taking office in 2019.

Cost estimates for the facility have been in the $30 million range, though no formal design studies have been done.

However, some SPLOST committee members said they had problems with the plan because of the recurring costs to maintain and staff such a facility, and its planned placement in west Newton rather than a more centralized location within the county.

Chairman Baxter Bouchillon said the operating costs after its construction typically include personnel and maintenance, which can be costly.

Aquatic centers also often operate in the red — meaning whoever builds them typically have to supplement their operations because user and rental fees do not cover expenses, Bouchillon said.

Its proposed location is on county-owned land at Denny Dobbs Park on Georgia Hwy. 212 in western Newton near the Rockdale County line, he noted. 

“Location will be a topic of debate,” Bouchillon said.

He said he knew county commissioners typically vie for major projects in their districts but their preferred locations may not always be the best sites for facilities planned for countywide use.

However, he said an aquatic center would provide a number of services needed in the county, such as swimming lessons or other water-related programs.

Mason has said he is working to find a mix of financing for the project, including everything from county bond financing and SPLOST to grants and corporate sponsorships. 

He said Monday he is still working on financing plans and declined comment on the committee’s discussion.

The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, also known as SPLOST, is a 1% tax on all sales and uses in Newton County. Its proceeds can only be used for infrastructure and to pay off debt.

By state law, the county must share the proceeds of any SPLOST with the cities within its borders based on an agreed distribution plan.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners established the SPLOST Oversight Committee in 2017 with members representing each of the five commission districts.

The 2017 SPLOST was approved during a special election in March 2017. It is anticipated to raise an estimated $64.8 million for county and municipal projects within Newton County before it expires in June 2023.

Committee members appeared to agree the referendum should go before voters during a regularly scheduled election like the 2022 General Election. 

Choices for governor, a U.S. Senate seat, Secretary of State and other high profile offices will be on the ballot and draw a heavier turnout of voters than a single-item special election, said County Manager Lloyd Kerr. 

Committee member Dawn Smith was absent.