Annexation may soon be settled

COVINGTON - Social Circle Mayor Jim Burgess is making public the details of a proposed resolution to the ongoing dispute between his city and Newton County over the annexation of 1,150 acres of county land into city limits.

In October 2007, Social Circle leaders met with the Newton County Board of Commissioners in a closed meeting to discuss a possible settlement.

Burgess and Newton County officials refused to comment on the details of their discussions, citing the ongoing litigation.

But five months later, with no word from Newton County, Burgess is releasing the proposal he made to the county.

"I feel like since they really haven't responded, and I've had no communication with them on this, I really don't see any reason not to release it," he said.

The proposal includes a plea for a cooperative partnership between the two governments, with Social Circle tentatively agreeing to help fund the Bear Creek Reservoir.

"We would agree to work with Newton County to develop a possible regional cooperative relationship for water supply through financial participation in the proposed Bear Creek Reservoir," Burgess said.

Social Circle would also agree to:

make all land use planning and development regulations jointly with the county;

not annex any territory south of Interstate 20 without Newton County's consent;

not annex any territory north of I-20 without consent of property owners; and

work with Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority in development and implementation of a joint regional waste water treatment facility.

According to Burgess, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has issued a 6.2 million gallon waste load allocation for discharge into the Little River - 3.1 million for Social Circle and 3.1 million for Newton County.

The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties is planning a sewage treatment plant in the Little River Watershed to serve Stanton Springs and potentially Georgia Perimeter College, a county source told the Citizen last year.

Meanwhile, the city of Social Circle is also seeking EPD approval for its own plant.

Limited capacity in the Little River would prevent both plants from going online, an EPD spokesman said, adding that, "We're hoping to get both groups together," to discuss a regional plant.

Burgess said the EPD will not permit discharge into the Little River without factoring in the current residential customer base of Social Circle, because the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority does not currently have any residential customers that would be served by the plant.

"Use of the city's residential customer base as part of the service area of the joint regional wastewater treatment facility will help underwrite the bonds for financing the regional wastewater facility," Burgess told commissioners.

Social Circle would also agree to support a scenic highway overlay for Ga. Highway 11 and work with the county to implement public safety services, he said.

"With the completion of our new bypass in 2010, there will be substantial residential and economic growth to the south side of our city," he said. "Much of this growth will be in Newton County. It is noted that the City of Social Circle will be responsible for providing service and infrastructure for those areas within the city limits, but that both the city and Newton County governments will enjoy the tax base associated with that growth."

Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner did not return calls seeking comment on the proposal.

Social Circle annexed 1,150 acres along the northern Interstate 20 right-of-way between Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. Highway 278, and rezoned it to Mixed Use Business Park in November 2006.

Shortly after, the county filed a lawsuit seeking to have the annexation and zoning declared invalid and void.

The city of Social Circle has filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, according to City Attorney Joe Reitman.

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