20 June 2019

Ronnie Cowan Key to Newton BOC Passing Record-Breaking Budget & Tax Increase; Nelson Heights Property Acquisition Tabled

By MB McCart, Ed. 

Despite likely finishing the current year with a $2 million surplus and bringing in an extra $3 million in revenue due to extremely high assessments, the Newton Co. BOC decided in its last general meeting against providing tax relief to its taxpayers & in a tied vote that was decided by the Chairman of the Board, Marcello Banes, approved a behemoth $68.87 million budget which will see most all Newton Co. property owners dealing with their highest tax bills ever. 

An attempt at a substitute budget based on a lower millage rate (13.2 vs 13.44) presented by Stan Edwards, 1st district Commissioner, couldn't get a second. Nancy Shulz, BOC 3, voted with Edwards against the higher budget while Demond Mason (BOC 2) & Ronnie Cowan (BOC 5) voted for it. And then, as mentioned previously, Banes broke the tie in favor of the tax increase.

A fair number of folks in the community were rather miffed with Ronnie Cowan, a Republican, for voting for the higher tax. 

Ronnie Cowan, BOC 5

Here's what Mr. Cowan had to say: 

I have been very concerned that the cities and county's inability to agree on the Service Delivery Plan is going to adversely affect the revenue stream in the budget. Unlike the cities, the county, as an extension of the state government is very dependent on the grants received through the Department of Community Affairs. According to our finance director, approximately 2.5 million of the county's  revenue is from grants. I voted for the budget, mostly because after all the discussion, I'm not sure the SDS will be agreed upon and          we will have to go to mediation. It has to do with the issues raised and the current climate of city and county relationships throughout Georgia. 

I have heard that there's been some bumps in the road with the service plan agreement, but, to me, it sounds like the previous arrangement wasn't the most equitable, especially as it relates to the City of Covington; regardless, several other folks I've spoken with say that something will be worked out & the county's revenue stream would not be impacted.

Cowan, ever since first elected, has always been cautious & deliberate, so none of this should come as too great a surprise, but still...pretty disappointing. 

As one local politico put it: 

There were obviously some cuts that could have been made to reduce the budget and decrease the millage rate from 13.44 to about 13.2, which Edwards wanted. Most citizens could have found several hundred thousand dollars of waste, starting with Sheriff Brown's $25 million budget- such as trimming the $360,000 for Tommy Craig, $335,000 for private auto shop repairs and the $1.03 million for overtime...

Nelson Heights 

Fortunately, the acquisition of land in Nelson Heights was tabled, for now at least. There were concerns from some about not having any type of master site plan & more concerns about the fact that both appraisals done came in under $20,000 while the BOC was wanting to pay $30,000. However, it was brought to this publication's attention that a land acquisition for up to $40,000 was included in the last SPLOST; however, there's no law that says the county has to, and ultimately it's up to the BOC to decided whether or not to spend that money.

That's it for now. 'Til next time...

MB McCart