The Covington City Council met for a work session Monday night to discuss topics from financial support for Newton County Tomorrow (NCT) to cemetery maintenance.
In June, Mike Hopkins, director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, presented the council with a letter on behalf of NCT and its chair, Mayor Jerry Roseberry of Oxford, requesting support from the city.
At Monday night’s meeting, Roseberry appeared before the council to make the case for supporting the nonprofit community organization, which brings together community leaders, representatives of the county, city, chamber of commerce, Water and Sewerage Authority and the Newton County School System. In addition, there were 11 seats for citizens without governmental ties.
“If you look at our board of directors, you’ll see we have broad representation,” Roseberry said.
Roseberry said NCT members got together at The Center, which the organization leases annually, to “talk about our problems in Newton County and within our cities, and we talk about it among ourselves and take it back to our respective [organizations].” The total amount NCT requested was $18,000, the same amount contributed by Newton County and the Water and Sewerage Authority. The three would be the largest contributors to NCT’s $100,000 budget.
Among things NCT accomplished in the last year, Roseberry said, was raising the percentage of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) municipalities received from 9 to 17 percent in 2011; and changing when the municipalities received SPLOST funds, so cities no longer took the bills from SPLOST projects to the county for payment in the form of monthly checks.
“That would not have happened if we hadn’t gotten together as mayors,” Roseberry said.
“There are some very positive things that have come out of [NCT] for the community,” he said. “There are things we need to do as city, and if we work together we can get our fair share.”
According to Roseberry, NCT helped the county and cities qualify as a Water First Community. In 2012, he said, Covington, Oxford, Porterdale, Mansfield and Newborn were five of the nine cities in the state receiving the designation. Only two counties received this designation, Roseberry said, and one was Newton. The qualification allows municipalities and the county to apply for and receive Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEEFA) loans at one-half percent interest.
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) requires Newton County and its municipalities to have a comprehensive transportation plan by 2018. NCT helped by paying 10 percent of the $300,000 for a plan from USR Corporation, which merged with AECOM Technology Corporation last year.
Though the plan is a county responsibility, Roseberry said later, it does involve the cities and the entire Newton community. NCT's role is limited to assisting the contractor with the stakeholder portion of the plan.
According to Roseberry, by far the most pressing issue facing the county and its municipalities is the impact of annexation of property into Social Circle on the Newton County School System. NCT helped fund a study, which showed the school system stands to lose in excess of $2 million a year if Social Circle is allowed to annex large tracts of land.
Social Circle has its own school system, he said. “If they didn’t have a school system, it wouldn’t be bad. Newton County still gets the tax money.”
However, funding for schools follows the student. NCSS is not “the richest school system in the state. Out of 187 districts, we’re 162 [in wealth].
“NCT is an opportunity for us to have a voice,” said Mayor Ronnie Johnston. During meetings “you have the chairman sitting there and a commissioner sitting there and you say, ‘hey, we’ve got to work this out.’”
NCT had asked Covington to contribute $18,000, matching contributions from Newton County and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. Later in the work session, council members discussed the amount requested.
When Council Member Chris Smith said it was unfair that Covington, with 13,000 residents, pay the same amount of money as the county, with over 103,000. Johnston pointed out Covington gets a higher percentage of SPLOST funds than other cities.
Smith asked if membership was worth it. Johnston, who is on the board, said it was a good place to talk about issues in the county now. “How are we going to deal with 9-1-1 or Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT)? When we’re sitting in the city, it’s easy to say it’s a county issue. It’s not just a county issue.
“I know, based on attending Georgia Municipal Association conference, there are communities who are trying to get people to sit down together and get these conversations started,” Johnston said.
Smith also questioned why NCT met at The Center, which it leases and turns around to sublease parts of the building to the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce, and rents out to at least 39 other organizations in the community. He wanted to know why NCT couldn’t meet at alternative government centers.
“That’s a valid question,” said City Manager Leigh Anne Knight. “One of the things Mayor Roseberry said was [about the] wealth of information they have over there. You can’t just pack all that information in the back of your car.”
“It really becomes a neutral site,” she added. “If you have your mayor’s hat on, you’re here to talk about the city of Covington. [NCT is] really about talking about the county and how the county affects the city, to make sure that what the county does not adversely affect on city.”
Smith said during the work session that he would be comfortable with contributing $12,000, not $18,000. The other members agreed and the vote to make the $12,000 contribution to NCT will be on the agenda for the council’s Monday, Aug. 1 meeting.