Newton County is a great place to live, but the public finances have been quite a mess in recent years.
Only in recent months has the picture begun to improve. A settlement in April with the East Georgia Land and Development Co. resolved the question of a proposed regional landfill near Lower River Road. That cost the county $10 million out of a recent bond issuance.
That was a good deal by the newly seated Board of Commissioners to end a lengthy dispute and avoid construction of a regional landfill few residents here would have wanted. But it did come at a steep price.
And, after Wednesday night, it looks like taxpayers may be on the hook for even more money related to solid waste.
The county’s solid waste manager, Kevin Walter, told the Solid Waste Management Authority members there is a potential for a budget shortfall of as much as $850,000 this year.
Eight hundred fifty thousand dollars.
Walter previously told board members the authority hasn’t brought in as much money as possible through “tipping fees,” or the revenue from waste coming across the scale at the landfill. Annual sales of the hang tags, allowing use of the convenience centers, also haven’t brought in as much money as hoped.
As a result, Walter reduced budget projections to $2.7 million, from $3.3 million.
A review of the budget shows the estimates of the number of hang tags to be sold — 10,000, compared to actual sales of about 5,500 — was always optimistic, and that’s no way to write a budget. Even after expense cuts, the principle and interest on bonds brings us to the estimated $850,000 shortfall.
Walter told The Covington News there are ways to make it up, including fee increases, finding other sources of waste for the landfill, making further reductions in expenses and seeking help from the Board of Commissioners.
Maybe, but why does Newton County keep finding itself in these situations?
It seems the greater county government led by new Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes has done a good job in digging out of the hole left behind by past officials. But, when the Solid Waste Management Authority — a group only reconstituted a little less than two years ago — already finds itself facing this kind of a deficit, it’s clear better management is needed.
The economy here is improving, but it’s not to the point that people have ready cash to make up debts like this, especially if there’s no end in sight to them.
Solid waste management is a stinky situation on its own, and if the current situation isn’t remedied with some good oversight, now, it’s going to get a lot worse for the people of Newton County. The Board of Commissioners should be prepared to step in if the authority can’t get this fixed quickly.
Our Thoughts is the view of the editorial board of The Covington News, which includes Editor and Publisher David Clemons and Managing Editor Jackie Gutknecht.