County reaches split SPLOST de­ci­sion

Break­ing down the fi­nal SPLOST pro­posal

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­news.com

De­spite the split among the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, it did reach an in­for­mal con­sen­sus on a fi­nal SPLOST list Thurs­day night, to­tal­ing $57.6 mil­lion in projects.

The $57.6 mil­lion num­ber is based on a con­ser­va­tive six-year SPLOST col­lec­tion pro­jec­tion, cre­ated by the county fi­nance depart­ment. Ag­gres­sive col­lec­tion pro­jec­tions called for as much as $61.2 mil­lion. Any money col­lected above that to­tal would likely be used to pay off debt.

Com­mis­sion­ers Mort Ewing, Tim Flem­ing and J.C. Hen­der­son all voiced their ap­proval for Ewing’s pro­posed list. The list will not of­fi­cially be voted on by the board un­til its Dec. 7 meet­ing, Chair­man Kathy Mor­gan

said Fri­day.

SPLOST Phi­los­o­phy

Be­cause so many fam­i­lies are strug­gling eco­nom­i­cally and are op­posed to in­creased taxes, com­mis­sion­ers have re­peat­edly said this will be a dif­fi­cult SPLOST to pass. Mul­ti­ple com­mis­sion­ers said they felt that pay­ing off county debt and im­prov­ing ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture were the most im­por­tant goals. They said they wanted to avoid adding new fa­cil­i­ties and ad­di­tional main­te­nance and op­er­a­tion costs.

The county has a to­tal of $69.7 mil­lion in debt ac­cord­ing to fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments, but nearly half of that is re­lated to the Cor­nish Creek wa­ter pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity and the county has a sep­a­rate wa­ter fund to cover many

of those costs. Most of the debt is long-term, low in­ter­est debt. The county is ex­pected to pay $2.69 mil­lion of in­ter­est in FY2011.

Roads and Debt

The largest sin­gle al­lo­ca­tion is $17.28 mil­lion for a va­ri­ety of county road projects. Cov­ing­ton would also re­ceive $6.96 mil­lion for trans­porta­tion projects.

Ewing’s pro­posal also calls for the county to pay off $3 mil­lion of debt for the jail’s de­ten­tion pods and $5 mil­lion of debt for the Newton County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing.

Ju­di­cial Cen­ter

The largest sin­gle project on the list is the ex­pan­sion of the Newton County Ju­di­cial Cen­ter. Com­mis­sioner Tim Flem­ing lob­bied hard for this project, not­ing that the build­ing was al­ready nearly at ca­pac­ity be­fore Judge Ken Wynne was sworn in as the third Newton County-based judge. Flem­ing said the county needed to put the list on the 2011 SPLOST in case money was not avail­able for ex­pan­sion later.

There had been a pro­posal for the county to buy the Geiger Street com­plex, which for­merly housed R.L. Cousins High School, to house mul­ti­ple county pro­grams in­clud­ing the ju­ve­nile court. That pro­posal did not make the list, but Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son sug­gested that the county could con­sider us­ing $2 mil­lion of the $7 mil­lion ju­di­cial cen­ter ex­pan­sion al­lo­ca­tion for the com­plex pur­chase.

The orig­i­nal pro­posal for the ju­di­cial cen­ter called for a $15 mil­lion ex­pan­sion. Hos­pi­tal Emer­gency Room

Ewing’s pro­posal in­cludes $4 mil­lion for the ex­pan­sion of Newton Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s emer­gency room. Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics pro­vided by the hos­pi­tal, it had 18,159 emer­gency room vis­its in 1993. That num­ber is ex­pected to in­crease 43,047 visit by the end of 2010.

Mort Ewing said Fri­day that he felt this was the most crit­i­cal project.

“I look at that as an im­por­tant eco­nomic devel­op­ment project. Any­time, we’ve met with a prospect for the joint devel­op­ment author­ity they ask about schools and the hos­pi­tal. And I’m able to brag about the hos­pi­tal,” Ewing said. “The emer­gency room is al­ways full, and in the sum­mer there is a line of peo­ple stand­ing out­side.”

Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz said that Newton Med­i­cal Cen­ter pro­vides qual­ity care and she un­der­stands the need to ex­pand the fa­cil­i­ties; how­ever, she wants to study health care in Newton County fur­ther be­fore ap­prov­ing a $4 mil­lion SPLOST project. She called for the county to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive health care plan to en­sure ad­e­quate hos­pi­tal care in the fu­ture.

Other Projects

Ewing’s pro­posal also calls for $2.5 mil­lion to re­place county ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing sher­iff’s of­fice ve­hi­cles, $1.1 mil­lion for a fire sta­tion in District 5, $1.2 mil­lion to com­plete the His­toric Jail project, $1.5 mil­lion to build a lo­cal Mir­a­cle League field and $1 mil­lion to up­grade var­i­ous ex­ist­ing parks.

The five county’s five mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were awarded a to­tal of $10.11 mil­lion, based on their por­tion of the county’s pop­u­la­tion. The cities’ fi­nal re­quests to­taled $21.58 mil­lion.

In or­der to se­cure a sixyear SPLOST col­lec­tion, in­stead of the cus­tom­ary five years, the county and cities must sign an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment ap­prov­ing the SPLOST.

Com­mis­sioner Schulz’s pro­posal, which was not sup­ported, in­cluded an ad­di­tional $4.53 mil­lion for debt ser­vice, $2.72 mil­lion more for roads and an ad­di­tional $2 mil­lion for fleet re­place­ment. She did not in­clude money for ex­pan­sion of the ju­di­cial cen­ter and hos­pi­tal.

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