To the editor:
Now that 2017 is underway, there is optimism about how our new Board of Commissioners (BOC) will operate Newton County government. Chairman Marcello Banes and new District Commissioners Stan Edwards and Ronnie Cowan have joined newly reelected Commissioner Nancy Schulz and sitting Commissioners Lanier Sims and J.C. Henderson. While there is reason to be hopeful about the new BOC, it may be too soon to trust them with a new $64 million SPLOST scheduled to be voted on March 21, 2017.
The new BOC faces huge challenges in 2017, including major issues raised in the November 2016 forensic report. Those findings reportedly have been referred to law enforcement. However, taxpayers are waiting for the BOC to attempt recovery of some of the misspent monies identified by the investigation. According to the report, 12 troubling land deals alone cost the county $12.8 million. So far, the BOC has not put any of the unneeded land up for sale in order to get back some of our wasted tax money. Maybe that ought to be a priority, along with careful spending of the millions left in the 2005 and 2011 SPLOST accounts, as opposed to passing a new SPLOST?
The Nelson Heights Community Center long has been a financial concern of those familiar with county government. That facility receives $40,000 per year from the county budget. The forensic report claimed that $42, 648 was misspent in the operation of that facility. The new BOC must seek restitution of the misspent funds and stop sending $3,333 each month to the center. That would give the public more reason to trust them with millions in new SPLOST funds, some of which is slated for similar facilities in other parts of the county.
The Newton County Recreation Commission (NCRC) says there was nothing improper or illegal about the actions of their Director as reported by the forensic accountants. If the Recreation Commission thinks it’s ok for their Director to use his position and NCRC facilities for personal financial gain, then the BOC needs to address broader problems in that organization. However, the BOC’s reappointment of two current members of the commission on January 17 was a sign that changes are unlikely, yet the new SPLOST proposes to give the Recreation Commission another $1 million to spend.
Newton County citizens, along with the current Grand Jury, must press for a fair and objective criminal investigation of all alleged misconduct cited by the forensic study. Meanwhile, citizens must insist that our new BOC take immediate steps to recover as much of the misspent money as possible. That, along with careful management of the remaining 2005 and 2011 SPLOST funds, would give the public a lot more confidence that the county has the intent and ability to manage the millions to be raised if the 2017 SPLOST passes.