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County set to allocate impact fee collections

COVINGTON - With nothing holding the county back from spending impact fee revenues now that a lawsuit by the local and state home builders associations has been dismissed, it's time to start putting the more than $6.5 million collected to use.

According to Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner, transportation consulting engineers with PBS&J are reviewing projects and will come before commissioners soon with recommendations on how to proceed.

"We will make a determination on which projects we want to move forward with and after that we will look at how to leverage funds at the federal level and whether to pursue that avenue or whether to pay for it out of our own impact fee money," Varner said.

While depending on state and federal money will further delay projects, with road impact fee collections at $4.32 million, Varner said it would be unlikely the county would be able to complete a major project without financial assistance.

Of the fees collected so far, $1.59 million will go toward recreation projects.

A new park on the west side of the county has been identified as the top priority in that category.

Denny Dobbs Park will be situated on 53 acres at Richards Chapel Road and Ga. Highway 212.

The first phase of the park, which will occupy about 20 acres, will include two basketball courts, a large playground, multi-use trails, a tot lot, a practice field, an open lawn area for pick-up games and four small pavilions.

The park will also include an electronic outdoor game called NEOS which features flashing lights, music and sound effects. Players run back and forth to race against the clock and each other to slap the blinking lights.

Phase 1 will cost $1.7 million to construct, plus a maximum of $300,000 in architect fees, bringing the total project budget to $2 million.

Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey said an architect is drawing up construction documents, which should be completed in less than a month. Once the drawings are finished, the project will be put out for bid.

"Putting a park on the western side of the county has been a priority of ours for years. It's been underserved for years," Hailey said.

A branch library in the Oak Hill area will also be one of the first projects to benefit from impact fees.

According to Newton County Library Director Greg Heid, the total project cost is $5 million, with $2 million coming from the state and $3 million, plus an additional $1 million for books, coming from the county.

A total of $884,714 in impact fees has been collected toward the library.

The state bonds were sold in December and Heid said he is preparing to submit a request to the county to sell bonds for the local portion.

Heid said he expects to have an architect selected by late March and expects to bid the contract by October or November. The library will likely be open by January 2010, he said.

"We're on our way," he added.

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