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SPLOST set for March 15 vote
County attorney reappointed, lawn maintenance contract renewed
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to call for a SPLOST special election on March 15.

The $57.6 million list was defined in slightly more detail in this final approval, with District 4 improvements broken out into $500,000 for recreation projects and $545,000 for a multi-use community center.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz voted for the list, but said she was voting with the understanding that projects would be brought before the board for consideration and approval before work could begin.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson questioned why this was necessary because the list would be approved by voters, but Commissioner Mort Ewing said that is the way SPLOST has always been handled during his time on the board.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said that the board regularly re-examines projects to make sure no significant budgetary or structural changes need to be made.

Although the board approved $1.1 million for District 4, this is the first list to break the money into separate categories. Henderson previously provided a specific list of projects, including various neighborhood parks, an indigent cemetery and a combined homeless, workforce development and health center to be run by Newton County Minister's Union. It remains to be seen what the money will finally be used for if the 2011 SPLOST is passed.

The agricultural facility line was expanded to say "Design and Construction of Agricultural Facility (including land purchase, if needed)."

Also Tuesday, the county reported that its 13-year-old lawsuit to prevent a private landfill from locating in Newton County was successful.

On Dec. 17, Superior Court Judge Samuel D. Ozburn ruled in the county's favor, saying that a landfill would have violated the county's zoning ordinance.

East Georgia Land and Development Company owns 417 acres off Fire Tower Road, just southwest of the county's current nearly 90-acre landfill on Lower River Road.

In 1997 East Georgia Land requested a letter from the county stating that East Georgia Land was permitted to develop a landfill on its property, the first step in applying for a landfill permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The county refused to write a letter, citing a 1985 zoning ordinance the county said prohibited the landfill from being built. The land is zoned Agricultural-Residential.

East Georgia Land sued the county to force it to write a letter. Ozburn ruled that the ordinance does not allow landfills in any zoning district.

The case was delayed in part because companion lawsuits were filed regarding the legitimacy of the zoning ordinance and zoning maps. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Newton County's favor in those cases in January 2010.

Also Tuesday, Craig was unanimously reappointed as county attorney a job he has held for 35 years.

Schulz requested that Craig's office provide monthly or quarterly consolidated financial reports to the commissioners. Although the board receives financial documents from Craig's office, Schulz said she wanted a single piece of paper that contained all attorney's fees.

"I think it's important for transparency sake that we have a consolidated financial accounting of the legal services. From time to time there's been questions from the public and I think it would just be helpful if on a quarterly basis you would provide that from your office," Schulz said.

County Clerk Jackie Smith was also unanimously reappointed.

The board also on Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve a one-year, $98,463 contract renewal with Durden's Lawn Maintenance to provide landscaping services for county buildings, including recycling centers. Commissioner Schulz opposed the agreement, because she wanted to bid out the contract next year.

The agreement does not cover parks and recreational facilities. The contract has four additional option years, which the board can vote to approve or decline each year.

In addition, the agreement was changed to add a 90-day written notice of cancellation and a 60-day severance penalty if the contract was cancelled. The majority of the contract is covered by the solid waste fund, with the remaining $30,305 paid out of the general fund.