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Porterdale wants cap on right of way payment

PORTERDALE - After agreeing to pay half of the costs for right of way acquisitions at Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road, Porterdale has yet to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Newton County.

The Porterdale City Council agreed last month to split the costs 50-50 with Newton County, but now the council wants the county to put a cap on how much the city has to pay.

County commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement on March 18 stating the county would own all right of way acquired and would donate county-owned property at the southeast quadrant of the intersection.

The agreement also made the county responsible for obtaining professional services to acquire right of way, including surveying, appraisal and legal services.

However, Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby has yet to sign the agreement out of concern that costs may run higher than the city can afford.

"Before the mayor signed it, we discussed the fact that Porterdale had no idea how much it will actually have to pay as its portion. It's so open ended," City Councilwoman Arline Hayes Chapman said. "We asked Councilman (Robert) Foxworth to go back to the county to see if they could determine what the cost of legal fees and surveying would be for that type of project so we would have some idea of what our half of the project is going to cost."

Hamby said the city is asking for a cap on its expenses "because if we come up short, we will have to go borrow money and we can't do that."

The council also wants the city to have right-of-way ownership, Foxworth said.

Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner could not be reached for comment.

Just how much Porterdale should contribute to the intersection project has been a matter of debate among council members.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will foot the bill for construction costs, an estimated $1.7 million, but right of way acquisition and the cost of moving utilities must be funded locally.

The DOT estimates it will cost $296,000 to purchase the right of way and another $54,190 to move utilities.

Progress on the project, which will entail adding a red light and turn lanes, has been slow, and Foxworth proposed the 50-50 split to move things forward, saying it was the most likely scenario to be approved by Newton County. The city would fund its portion through special purpose local option sales tax revenues.

Foxworth's proposal passed 3-to-2, with Councilwomen Hayes and Kay Piper in opposition. The two said they wanted more time to negotiate with the county and to see an agreement in writing.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said Wednesday that he is also opposed to the city paying 50 percent.

"The majority of the traffic out there now and the problems we have with that intersection are because of the growth the county commission approved in the western part of the county," he said. "My feeling is the county generated this problem, and they should pay their portion to correct it."

Hamby said a traffic study conducted at the intersection showed Porterdale residents were only responsible for 20 percent of traffic there, and he believes Porterdale should pay 20 percent of right of way costs.

Hamby also said he is displeased that Foxworth acted as a spokesperson to the county on behalf of the Porterdale City Council.

"Councilman Foxworth negotiated on his own with the county that we would do 50 percent. That's going to take funds away from the city of Porterdale to do repairs we need. Storm drains, curbs and gutters need to be repaired and the money may not be there for those needs," he said.

DOT spokesman Mark McKinnon said that right of way plans are up for review in May, with the project to be bid out in April 2009. He did not have an estimate on how long construction would take.

The project is also under review by the Army Corps of Engineers due to a small stream running alongside the roadway, McKinnon said.

A permit must be obtained from the Corps before the stream buffer is disturbed, he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.