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Social Circle City Council tables vote on annexation
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Despite the recommendation made by the Planning and Zoning Board, the Social Circle City Council moved to table the vote on annexing two tracts of land in Newton County north of I-20 until its next meeting, Feb. 16.

The board made the decision to postpone its vote at its Jan. 19 meeting.

The decision, said Social Circle’s Mayor Hal Dally, was made to give the Newton County Board of Commissioners a chance to review the conditional use restrictions placed on the land, which would be zoned agriculture.

“We put conditions on the property use that are more stringent than Newton County requires,” he said.

The conditions were put in place in response to an objection from Newton County, where most of the 223-acres are located. The two parcels are bordered on the north by Cannon/Hancock Road and the Little River to the south. A small piece, approximately three acres, dips into southern Walton County.

In December, the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) had instructed interim county attorney Ken Jarrard to send a letter protesting the annexation. Jarrard said the basis of the objection would be the increased burden on the county’s infrastructure and schools, the density of development, and the possible creation of an unincorporated island of land, which is not allowed under the state’s current annexation laws.

But the lawyer representing Social Circle, Joe Reitman of the Lambert, Reitman and Abney Law Firm , told the Planning and Zoning Board the county has not presented any documentation that annexation would burden the county’s infrastructure, and that, because the county has access along Cannon/Hancock Road, an island of unincorporated land has not be created.

Impact on county school district

The superintendent of the Newton County School System disagrees with the contention that the annexation would not have a negative impact on the county’s schools.

“Ultimately, any action that diverts property tax revenue from the Newton County School System, whether current property tax revenue or revenue generated through future growth and development is problematic,” said Dr. Samantha Fuhrey. “Annexation by Social Circle will negatively impact the Newton County School System.

“It is impossible to know the future impact as it is entirely dependent upon what will be developed in the location,” she said.

Currently, the acreage is uninhabited, with a combined assessed value of $554,700. Social Circle would zone the two tracts as agricultural use with conditions. Those conditions would include minimum 10 acre lot size, developmental standards, and protections for the Little River and Alcovy River Watershed District and wetlands.

Robert Goudiss of All Star Management, LLC, told the Planning and Zoning Board during the public hearing Jan. 19, that the three partners – Goudiss, Greg Rosa of HEA Holdings, and Harry Arnold of HA Walton County – had wanted the property annexed to Social Circle for some time.

“It was always our hope to have it annexed by Social Circle,” Goudiss said. “We have no plans for property development at this time.”

According to the laws governing annexation, the property would have to remain zoned for agriculture for one year. After that, the owners could return to the city council to request a zoning change.

In its map of future land use, the city would eventually zone it for mixed use which allows residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses.

Control over development

Social Circle has its own school district and fire and police departments. Residents pay taxes to both the city and county. Residents would pay school taxes to the Social Circle schools, not to Newton County schools.

Newton County Commissioner John Douglas is opposed to the annexation “It’s not good for Newton County to have creeping annexation from Social Circle. This is an ongoing process on their part to take over a large piece of northeast Newton County as they have tried before.”

Douglas said that Social Circle previously tried to annex all or most of the property adjacent to the north side of I-20 between exits 98 and 101, but left an island of unincorporated area in the process. “Under Georgia law, a city cannot annex and leave a piece of property not in the city which would be surrounded by their new annexation,” he said. “That caused them to rescind the annexation.”

“I suspect their goal is all of Newton County north of I-20 and east of Hwy. 11, at least for starters,” Douglas said.
Reitman said the previous annexation failed due to a technical problem with the legal description. The annexation also involved several other contiguous tracts of land in addition to the two parcels involved in the current annexation.

District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox said there are concerns about how the land will be developed and how special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) are used. SPLOST taxes can only be used on major projects of a permanent, long-lived nature, such as land and structures. That includes roads, bridges, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and building parks, schools and other public facilities.

“Citizens of Newton County want to be able to influence how property within our borders develop,” Maddox said. “If property is annexed into Social Circle, the Social Circle leadership provides the influence instead of Newton. Newton County would still get property taxes, but the Newton School system would lose their share of taxes.

Arbitration set in motion

When a county files an objection to an annexation, an arbitration panel is appointed. The five-member panel is comprised of people who’ve municipal and county elected officials who have served within the last six years, and higher education academics with a master’s degree or higher in public administration or planning.

The panel hears evidence from the city, county and property owners, and will render a decision within 60 days of appointment. The panel’s decision is binding, but may be appealed on limited grounds to the state’s Superior Court.
“The good folks of Social Circle are our neighbors,” Maddox said. “Their leadership and our leadership should have in-depth and on-going discussions about a common vision for that area.

“A united and prosperous vision, as friends, can protect our way of life, the character of the area and still allow high quality development,” Maddox said.

By tabling the motion to annex, Dally said the Social Circle City Council hoped to give the Newton County Board of Commissioners a chance to review the special use conditions the Planning and Zoning Board was recommending. “Arbitration is expensive,” he said. “We wanted to give both sides a chance to talk and save money.”