COVINGTON, Ga. — Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, Newton County is “doing well,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes said.
The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce hosted Banes and other local government leaders Wednesday, Sept. 9, for a panel discussion concerning the state of the community.
Leading off virtually via Zoom, Mansfield Mayor G.W. Davis said the city was about to embark on a few projects including an “aggressive road improvement project.” However, he said the city’s greatest need was for more businesses.
“We have a number of business sites that are available, and we’d love to have someone move into them,” Davis said. “And we have some stores in our downtown area that are for sale or for rent or lease.
“Mansfield has been around since 1904,” he continued. “We’re the smallest town and the youngest town. And we were developed on a railroad. The railroad is now gone but the town remains, and we hope it will remain for years to come as we try to revive the quality of living environment for families.”
Covington Mayor Steve Horton reflected on the city’s response to COVID-19.
“One thing I’ve learned during that time though, we are — you are — a resilient people,” he said.
Because of the virus’ impact, Horton said the city’s fiscal year budget was considerably lower than in years past; however, the city was able to introduce a grant program for local small businesses. He said $250,000 worth of grants were awarded to 158 businesses.
The city also approved 50 part-time jobs as a way to offer help to those affected by the pandemic.
Horton also spoke briefly abut canceling the annual Fourth of July fireworks event and implementing a mask mandate, and he understood many people weren’t keen on the ideas. He said the city would continue “looking and talking about ways and things we can do to help make the community more sustainable and stronger as we move ahead.”
Oxford City Manager Matt Pepper also spoke about his city’s response to the pandemic.
“For us, the main priority has been to help our residents as much as possible to get through pandemic,” he said.
For those who lost their jobs, Pepper said the city offered utility assistance and worked with local churches and other community partners to give out food.
He said the city of Oxford “planned for worst case scenarios” by cutting its budget by about 20%.
Newly hired Porterdale City Manager Frank Etheridge shared how his city was looking to bounce back after a tumultuous few months.
He said the city was working to hire employees to fill out its depleted public works department after all its employees “walked out.” In the meantime, the city was forced to contract out its garbage pick-up.
The city was also looking to hire one more police officer, he said. To fill out its administrative staff, Etheridge said a city clerk/finance director was recently hired.
Etheridge said the city’s 2018 audit was in hand and his staff was working through several issues brought forward by the auditor. The city is also working on the 2019 audit as well.
Currently, the 2020 budget is being prepared for the council’s approval. He said it would include about $1.4 million in the general fund, $200,000 for garbage sanitation and $600,000 for water and sewage.
“For others that may seem small, but for us it’s good,” he said.
Projects underway currently include the replacement of sewer lines throughout the city.
He said at least two film crews were scheduled to be in town in October for various television series.
Banes rounded out the discussion with a countywide update.
He said the county was actively building two new fire stations and refurbishing another. He said it was a “big deal” for the community because it would not only help the response time but could also help lower residents’ homeowner insurance.
The county’s animal shelter is nearing completion. Banes said he hoped to have a ribbon cutting soon.
Banes said the county was working to expand its senior services and also its water treatment facility.
Banes spoke sparingly on the county’s budget but said he was glad to be able to pass a millage rate rollback to provide relief for residents.
After briefly mentioning the TSPLOST proposed to voters and reminding residents that 2021 would be Newton County’s bicentennial, Banes closed the discussion with thoughts on “One Newton.”
“I pray that we don’t let anything divide us and that we always stand together in spirit and unity of ‘One Newton,’” Banes said. “I tell Mayor Horton all the time, the county is not successful unless the city is successful … we depend on each other.”