The Covington News - - Lo­cal news -

state se­na­tor to try to get a pub­lic apol­ogy from the Cony­ers City Coun­cil for a per­ceived in­sult and a prom­ise from the mayor that City Man­ager Tony Lu­cas would re­main neu­tral dur­ing Dou­glas' re-elec­tion cam­paign.

Crotts based his al­le­ga­tions on a se­ries of March e-mails be­tween Dou­glas and Cony­ers of­fi­cials that be­came pub­licwhen the At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion posted them on­line. Dou­glas mean­while ac­cused Crotts, a for­mer state se­na­tor him­self, of not be­ing a res­i­dent of Dis­trict 17 and main­tain­ing a false res­i­dence in Cov­ing­ton while re­ally liv­ing in Mc­Donough. Dou­glas ul­ti­mately won the pri­mary and went on to win the gen­eral elec­tion.

In Septem­ber, the cam­paign to elect Randy Vin­son to the BOC Dis­trict 5 seat un­suc­cess­fully raised a can­di­dacy chal­lenge to Repub­li­can op­po­nent Tim Fleming based on a home­stead ex­emp­tion he had filed for a home that was not in the dis­trict. The New­ton County Board of

In Novem­ber, the county’s un­em­ploy­ment rate stood at 8.6 per­cent rate, up from 7.8 per­cent in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of La­bor. That rate is higher than the state av­er­age, which is 7.5 per­cent.

That taken with a sharp in­crease in the num­ber of fore­clo­sures in the county and added with in­fla­tion­ary food prices and high gas prices at the pump that weren’t re­lieved un­til the late fall have all cou­pled to­gether to squeeze county res­i­dents through­out the year.

One af­fect of this pock­et­book squeeze has been a marked growth in the num­ber of res­i­dents seek­ing emer­gency fi­nan­cial aid and food pack­ages from the county’s net­work of non­prof­its. This de­mand led to the Com­mu­nity Food Pantry’s hav­ing to shut­ter its doors briefly at Hal­loween un­til a num­ber of con­cerned ci­ti­zens were able to re­stock its shelves.

Fore­shad­ow­ing of the grim eco­nomic news ahead for New­tonCoun­ty­wasanan­nounce­ment by Home De­pot in March that it would not be build­ing a sec­ond store in the county. Wal-Mart fol­lowed up with news that it was post­pon­ing the con­struc­tion of a sec­ond Su­per Wal-Mart at the in­ter­sec­tion of Salem and Brown Bridge Roads by one or two years.

The county ap­proval of both new stores in early 2007 was a very con­tro­ver­sial mat­ter with res­i­dents of Dis­trict 3 ar­gu­ing that traf­fic con­ges­tion in the area was al­ready too high to war­rant the lo­ca­tion of two large big-box stores at two in­ter­sec­tions with­out traf­fic sig­nals. The BOC nar­rowly ap­proved the con­struc­tion of the two stores largely in part be­cause of the jobs they would have cre­ated and for the large com­mer­cial sales tax bases they would have brought.

Onceone of the county’s great­est en­gines for eco­nomic growth, the hous­ing in­dus­try sput­tered to a stand­still this year when the hous­ing bub­ble burst. The New­ton County Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion has lost more than 100 mem­bers this year. In May, the num­ber of new hous­ing per­mits was down 85 per­cent from the same time last year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of La­bor, last year 7.8 per­cent of New­ton County's work­force was em­ployed in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try. Whenadded to the other busi­ness sec­tors that rely on the hous­ing in­dus­try (2.8 per­cent of New­ton work- ers are em­ployed in whole­sale trade, 2 per­cent are em­ployed in fi­nance and in­sur­ance and 1.5 per­cent are em­ployed in real es­tate, rental and leas­ing) the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the hous­ing down­turn add up.

“It’s a huge trickle down af­fect,” said An­drea Ham­mond, ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of NCHBA in late Novem­ber. “If builders aren’t build­ing, painters aren’t paint­ing, land­scap­ers aren’t land­scap­ing.”

Fore­clo­sures sharply in­creased in 2008. As of the end of De­cem­ber, there were 785 ac­tive fore­clo­sures in the county, ac­cord­ing to the Web site fore­clo­, which tracks na­tional fore­clo­sure sta­tis­tics.

The tur­moil on Wall Street has also led to the post­pone­ment of two lo­cal pro­jects— the down­town Cov­ing­ton ho­tel/civic cen­ter and the ex­pan­sion of New­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s emer­gency depart­ment. After se­lect­ing a new pri­vate part­ner for the civic cen­ter, plans fi­nally to be­gin con­struc­tion were mov­ing speed­ily along this sum­mer with pre­lim­i­nary ar­chi­tec­tural ren­der­ings re­vealed and a much higher price tag ($37 mil­lion) than ini­tially an­tic­i­pated an­nounced.

How­ever be­fore the county and the city of Cov­ing­ton could fi­nal­ize an agree­ment with pri­vate de­vel­oper, P.R. Hos­pi­tal­ity, and take out bonds to pay for the con­struc­tion of the civic cen­ter, the col­lapse of the fi­nan­cial mar­kets sent the in­ter­est rate of bonds through the roof — mak­ing the cost of build­ing the civic cen­ter too high for now.

Like­wise, the ex­pan­sion of NMC’s emer­gency depart­ment, a $5.4 mil­lion project, was also post­poned un­til such time as the in­ter­est rates of the bond mar­ket fall to a more rea­son­able rate.

Fi­nally, two banks with branches in New­ton County were seized by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment rather than let fail for lack of ad­e­quate liq­uid­ity.

The Com­mu­nity Bank of Lo­ganville was seized by the Fed­eral De­posit In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion in Novem­ber and ac­quired by The Bank of Es­sex. First Ge­or­gia Com­mu­nity Bank was seized by the FDIC in midDe­cem­ber and quickly bought by United Bank of Ze­bu­lon. Both seized banks had been heav­ily in­vested in real es­tate loans — a mar­ket that has failed mis­er­ably with the col­lapse of the hous­ing bub­ble.

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