Porterdale seeks changes in intersection deal

PORTERDALE - The City Council on Tuesday night had a sometimes heated discussion of its pending intergovernmental agreement for improvements to the congested Ga. Highway 81/Crowell Road intersection, but failed to reach a resolution on the matter other than to turn it over to the city attorney for changes.

City Manager Tom Fox told the council he had discussed the pending agreement between the city and Newton County with Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner. The consensus from that meeting, Fox said, was that council members should amend the agreement to suit them and send it back to the county for review.

The agreement was approved by both the City Council and the Board of Commissioners in March. Since then, however, some members of the council have expressed dissatisfaction with several of the details of the document, particularly the requirement that Porterdale pay 50 percent of the cost of right of way acquisition. The agreement has been signed by the county but not by the city.

In addition to a change in the percentage to be paid by Porterdale, council members also want ownership of the purchased right of way to go to Porterdale rather than the county. Mayor Bobby Hamby also suggested requesting that the land appraisals and sale closings be done by an independent appraiser and attorney rather than those obtained by the county in order to keep a check on costs.

The pending agreement with Newton County for intersection improvements has caused contention among council members since it was approved in a 3-2 vote in March. Hamby expressed displeasure in April that Councilman Robert Foxworth had acted as a spokesman to the county on behalf of the council and proposed the 50-50 split. Hamby said in April and reiterated at Tuesday night's work session that paying 50 percent of the land acquisition costs will leave Porterdale with no funds for future street repairs and emergencies.

Hamby also said Tuesday that he is tired of being accused of holding up the project.

"I've been blasted all over this county as the one who's stopping this intersection," Hamby said, adding that those assertions are "pure, outright lies."

Hamby said he believes Porterdale should pay 20 percent of the cost of land acquisition, since a traffic survey revealed that about 20 percent of traffic passing through the bottle-necked intersection is made up of Porterdale residents.

Councilwoman Arline Chapman said she believes that the city should pay less than 50 percent but more than 20.

Chapman also said she isn't prepared to make a decision on the agreement until she sees a copy of a document from the state Department of Transportation in which Newton County purportedly agrees to pay all land acquisition costs on the project while the state pays construction costs. Several council members said Tuesday night they recalled the document, but no one could find a copy of it. Chapman said the city had filed a request with the DOT for the document under the state's Open Records Act but had not yet received it.

Foxworth stood by his belief that the city should pay the 50 percent it agreed to pay. "It passed - the city should honor it," he said.

"Some of you don't ever go through that intersection," he told fellow councilmembers. "And some of us go through it two or three times a day."

Porterdale has slightly more than $400,000 in SPLOST funds earmarked for transportation projects. In addition to right of way costs, the city will also be responsible for relocating utilities at the intersection.

The DOT estimates it will cost $296,000 to purchase rights of way and another $54,190 to move utilities. Construction costs on the project, which includes adding a traffic signal and turn lanes, are estimated at $1.7 million. The project is scheduled to be bid out in April 2009, according to the DOT.

- Staff writer Crystal Tatum contributed to this report.