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LETTER: Reader calls for oversight committee for Newton BOC

Dear Editor:

As I read in The Covington News dated Jan. 23-24, 2021, about the controversy for funding a new fire station for eastern Newton County and the funding of three districts putting their recreational needs ahead of a district’s need for fire protection, it reminds me that sometimes politics takes precedence over common sense. Is it politics as usual? The three districts claiming precedence are Democrat while the district needing fire protection is Republican.

How politics outweighs common sense has been on my mind since I was a member and one of the founders of Central Newton Volunteer Fire Department in the mid-1980s. We even had a Georgia High School Rodeo Association rodeo at Bar C Ranch in 1981 as a fundraiser. We may have been the last one of the VFDs to organize because there were already seven VFDs established in Newton County.

I think the first to organize was Salem VFD on Salem Road near the Old Salem Campground. Later to follow was Rocky Plains VFD which covered the south side of the Salem Road area. There was North Newton VFD on Highway 81 near Oxford and there was East Newton VFD on Highway 142 at Dixie Road which is now sitting there empty.

The cities of Mansfield and Newborn on the east of the county shared one fire station. The city of Porterdale had its own VFD. The south side was covered by Stewart VFD which was later moved south of the FFA Camp and renamed FFA VFD. It may be the only one in use today.

All the volunteers had to go through the same rigorous training as regular firefighters. We trained in the classroom at the then-fire station on Piper Road and personal firefighting was practiced on abandoned properties throughout the county. We all received accreditation from the Georgia Fire Academy.

Our first elected president was not aggressive about holding meetings so as vice president I nominated Rebie Johnson as president and he was elected. I served as vice president, Ed Mobley was secretary-treasurer, Mark Cochran, who was a fulltime firefighter with the city of Atlanta, was fire chief and capable volunteers such as Ed Nolan, Jody Nolan, Charles Sewell and many other volunteers helped to organize our unit. Rebie Johnson later joined the Newton County Fire Services and retired as fire marshal. Jody Nolan, after spending time with the Newton County Emergency Services, is now head of the Newton (County Emergency Management Agency).

I never did understand why the county did not look in the feasibility of leasing these VFD facilities and using volunteer forces as backup. Or did they? The vehicles were there along with the equipment and gear. Also were available trained volunteers. Were many recruited to be fulltime firefighters? When the VFDs shut down, what happened to the vehicles, equipment and gear? Does anyone know?

Since response time to a scene is a critical criteria for locating a station house, I question the location of the new fire station on Big Woods Road. Big Woods Road happens to be a mile or less from the existing Central Newton VFD building at highways 36 and 213. How far is it to the Mansfield and Newborn area? These are some of the questions that I would like answered among others made by this body over the years.

In my opinion we need a bipartisan oversight committee to oversee how commissioners determine where the taxpayers’ money is to be spent, whether or not necessary items are being overridden by political obsessions and not done in the wisest of manner in order to benefit the county as a whole.

Richard Garner