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SPLOST paves way to growth for county
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Many of you reading this will remember when Newton County was primarily an agricultural community where cotton, orchards, hay fields, cattle, dairies and family gardens dominated the landscape. Others will cherish memories of those days as related by parents and grandparents. Roads that linked farms and homesteads were rutted dirt roads, even the most well-traveled.

When road-paving became an industry in the first part of the 20th century, it became the primary duty of our county’s top elected official, called the "Commissioner of Roads and Bridges," to get Newton County out of the mud. Every incoming sole commissioner made it his goal to pave as many miles as possible while in office.

The construction of I-20 along the natural path that ran from Atlanta to Augusta paved the way for Newton County to develop something more than an agricultural base. Industry came our way and kept coming, followed by a flood of homeowners seeking the wide open spaces to the east of Atlanta as a place to put down roots.

In just the past 10 years, our county’s population has grown by 40,000 to a figure today of about 105,000. The strains on our infrastructure have grown exponentially in the same period, particularly with the overflow development on the western side of the county that spills into Porterdale, Oak Hill and Covington. If you live in western Newton County, rush hours to and from work and getting to and from school are particularly painful.

Our roads and infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, have not kept up with this growth. Keeping existing streets and roads repaired is an overwhelming challenge, but it pales in comparison to the critical need to accommodate thousands and thousands more trucks and cars that clog our byways and intersections. Have you been on Crowell Road lately? Have you been on Salem Road? Some 30,000 cars travel that road every day, and it’s a nightmare. The Georgia Department of Transportation doesn’t even have those roads on the radar screen for improvement until 2030, in the case of Salem Road, and 2040 in the case of Crowell Road.

Our Board of Commissioners and the 2011 SPLOST Committee don’t believe we’ve got time, temper or patience to wait on GDOT to address our transportation needs. Clearly, we’ve got to do it ourselves, and that leads us to the decision to continue the 1 percent SPLOST set to expire in June. Out of the $57.6 million the SPLOST should bring in by 2017, some $28 million is targeted for roads and bridges, for additional turn lanes and lights, to widen and repair damaged streets and roads, for resurfacing and to correct drainage problems that contribute to the stress on our infrastructure.

The crisis in Newton County’s road system is here now. It’s not 20 years away or even five years away. We’ve got to deal with it right now. The county’s tax digest has been shrinking with the deep recession we’ve experienced and the thousands of foreclosed homes still processing through the system. There’s little hope that there will be $28 million sitting in county general operating funds to cover our transportation needs for the next six years.

Instead of asking property owners in this county to pay the full tab for addressing the crisis in our roads, bridges and infrastructure, let’s ask our visitors and those passing through our county lines to help us handle the crisis. People who don’t live in Newton County will pay approximately 34 percent of the cost of the SPLOST. When you can get a deal like that anywhere, take it, I say.

Early voting on SPLOST continues at the County Administration Building in Covington through Friday.

On Tuesday, March 15, visit your polling places to cast your ballot in favor of the 1 percent SPLOST in order to keep us competitive with our neighbors and able to attract quality growth. Your vote can help keep Newton County moving forward.


Billy Fortson is a SPLOST advocate and owner of Ginn Motor Company.