Morgan says balanced growth needed

COVINGTON - It's Kathy Morgan's goal to get Newton County moving. The Democratic candidate for Board of Commissioners chairman said the county has become stagnant in terms of dealing with growth and planning for the future, and she believes she is the most qualified candidate to turn that around.

"What we have to do is coach, teach, educate, study and understand, bring in new ideas, use ingenuity to take the resources we have and use them to make the community what we need it to be, instead of saying we can't afford this, or there's no money for that," she said. "Everybody's aware there's never enough money. We need to say, 'OK, if this is what's in the best interest of Newton County, what do we need to do to make that happen?'"

A resident of Newton County since 1968, Morgan is a commercial real estate officer for the community bank division of Wachovia. Her job entails finding and marketing commercial real estate opportunities and economic development for customers throughout the state.

Her late husband, Davis Morgan, was chairman of the Board of Commissioners from 1992 to 2000.

Morgan serves on the Board of Directors for The Learning Center and is a member of Smart Growth Newton County and the Newton County Historical Society.

She has three daughters and four grandchildren.

What, in your opinion, is the most pressing issue facing Newton County?

Creating a sustainable tax digest and balanced growth between residential, commercial and industrial developments should be the top priority "to keep those tax dollars here in Newton County rather than sending people to other counties to help pay for those counties' needs," Morgan said.

The county needs diverse housing of all styles, sizes and price ranges and a variety of commercial establishments, from mom and pop stores to large industries, she said.

"We are woefully short on what we're doing and planning and leadership," she said.

"If you're not moving forward, you're stagnant, you're falling behind. Newton County has not been moving forward ... We're becoming a suburban bedroom community with no balance to growth."

Transportation continues to be a top concern for citizens. Though the county's hands are tied to a certain extent when it comes to state and federal roads, is there anything more that can be done on the local level to address this problem?

Improving traffic flow by doing in-house projects such as installing turn lanes and traffic lights at intersections is one option, Morgan said. Connecting existing roads and working with homeowners to cut additional roads in subdivisions to create alternate traffic routes may also be solutions, along with seeking more grant money for road projects, she said.

Do you believe that the chairman should be involved in economic development? If so, what can be done in that area?

Morgan said the chairman should take a very active role in economic development. One approach could be to recruit companies that supply materials used by industries already located in the community, she said. Another would be to look at what other jobs can be created based on existing industries. For example, the agricultural industry is big business in Newton County, and it might be worthwhile to look at how to broaden that industry's scope, she said.

Growth is slowing, likely meaning less tax revenues will be coming in, but the cost of operations and projects is increasing. How can the county continue to provide the same level of service to citizens? Will a tax increase be necessary?

County leaders need to "look at everything and make hard decisions," to avoid raising taxes, Morgan said, including doing more in-house work and less expensive studies. She also proposes meeting with department heads to determine if there are more efficient ways to operate.

"Homeowners have an extreme tax burden and that's the result of growth and not having balanced growth," she said. "Money management is going to be critical over the next two or three years, and that's with no new expenses or growth."

Would you support holding a liquor-by-the-drink referendum?

Morgan said she would support a referendum, but, "I'm not in favor of just anybody, anywhere opening up a place to serve alcohol and liquor."

Morgan said liquor-by-the-drink may be necessary to draw quality restaurants, but said it's important to stick to the comprehensive land use map and locate those establishments in designated commercial nodes.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newton