One item on the Nov. 3 ballot will do more than get someone voted into office for four years — it will benefit generations to come.
Newton County’s General and Special Election ballot includes a special election for a 1% sales tax reserved for transportation projects in Newton County and its six cities, and an $18.9 million bond issue that will be used to start work on the projects.
Proceeds of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation projects, or T-SPLOST, could reach $56 million over five years and will be shared between the county and six cities.
The special election is at the end of the ballot, below two proposed state constitutional amendments and a statewide referendum.
A good road system is needed for successful economic development in an area — or simply for not wasting half a day stuck in traffic backups while traveling on overburdened thoroughfares.
The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce has shown its support on its Facebook page and its website gocovington.com. A Facebook page maintained by a pro-2017 SPLOST group also has been a visible show of support.
State law prohibits government agencies from spending public money to support any political effort like a T-SPLOST referendum.
Newton County, like many others in 2012, overwhelmingly rejected plans for regional transportation projects in Georgia despite overwhelming evidence work was needed to improve our multi-county infrastructure.
Voters in 2012 seemed to say they wanted to concentrate on projects inside their own counties rather than other counties.
Eight years later, Newton County has this opportunity to raise $56.1 million for transportation projects solely within Newton County.
A city-county sharing agreement for the money is based roughly on the population of each entity.
The county government’s share for projects in unincorporated Newton is projected to be about $41.6 million and Covington will receive about $10.3 million.
Covington’s share will be allotted to general safety improvements, intersection improvements and paving.
A total of $1.5 million would go to bridge construction and maintenance, including plans for a new pedestrian bridge on Emory Street over I-20; $1 million would be set aside for implementation of the city’s Airport Master Plan; $1 million to public parking and infrastructure projects; and $750,000 for sidewalks and paved trails.
Oxford will get $1.6 million, Porterdale $1.1 million, Mansfield $800,000 and Newborn $465,000 in funding for everything from sidewalks and bridge replacements to paving and safety improvements for pedestrians.
The county’s share will be dominated by road expansions totaling $17 million in unincorporated Newton — followed by intersection improvements, bridge replacement and repair, paving and resurfacing, transit and safety improvements.
Commissioners chose to leave the categories in general terms rather than naming specific projects which might be eligible for funding from other sources — a move some city leaders criticized because voters might prefer specifics.
However, the county’s 2017 SPLOST committee also recommended commissioners use the money to pay for specific projects, like improvement of the dangerous and unsignalized intersection of Ga. Hwy. 36 and County Road 213, and a long-sought widening of Brown Bridge Road which will require more than a third of the county’s share.
County Chairman Marcello Banes said this vote also would show the board of commissioners about the appetite for a limited intra-county transit system.
The system is envisioned to give those without vehicles easier access to shopping and services and their jobs within Newton County. A study of a transit system and its inclusion in an overall transportation plan was included in the county’s Strategic Plan in 2018
“What other way is there to see if the citizens want this?” Banes asked in a recent interview with The Covington News.
I’ve seen opposition coming from some anti-tax circles on social media. It’s a fact this county already pays 7% in sales tax, though 4% of it goes to the state.
County residents, most recently, approved a 1% Education SPLOST in 2018 and renewed a 1% SPLOST in 2017.
There also is a 1% Local Option Sales Tax, which is used to give property tax relief.
Some planned improvements are badly needed to upgrade dangerous intersections not much improved since Newton was just another rural county on the road between Atlanta and Augusta.
When one fender bender during morning rush hour on I-20 can cause delays for thousands of Newton County commuters, one would think there’d be a huge appetite for any road improvements.