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Group pitches 2050 plan

OXFORD -- The Newton County Leadership Collaborative made its first municipal presentation of the Newton County 2050 Build Out Plan to the city of Oxford during its monthly work session Monday night.

Representatives from the collaborative -- which are made up of city and county officials from various agencies -- want each governmental entity to buy into its plan to accommodate growth in Newton County by signing a resolution.

Collaborative representative Dennis Carpenter, who also serves as deputy superintendent for the Newton County School System, said about 400,000 residents are expected to be living in Newton County by the year 2050. That is 300,000 more residents than what is expected to live in the county this year -- 338,000 more than lived in Newton County in 2000 -- and 358,000 more than lived in the county in 1990.

Carpenter said Newton County and entities that make up the county need to put in place a plan to make the growth work for the county, instead of against it.

"When we don't plan for growth ... it's happening anyway," he said. "When we plan for growth, we can influence it and it can and will happen in a different manner."

He said the collaborative has been developing a plan since 2005 that provides practices, principals and strategies for entities to follow to ensure positive growth.

"Our goal is to provide an exceptional quality of life for everyone in our community," he said.

Fellow collaborative representative Lynn Parham, who also is the geographical information manager for Newton County and the city of Covington, said quality of life is affected by land, people and jobs.

By following strategies, Newton County can plan for a sustainable future, she said. Strategies include protecting clean water, creating community and corridors and coordinating public investments in comprehensive and economic development and land conservation.

The collaborative developed a map that shows the potential for Newton County. It includes the placement of town centers in the Covington, Almon, Salem, Oak Hill and Hub Junction communities; a proposed Bear Creek Reservoir and an airport business park; a conservation zone in the eastern part of the county that contains large agricultural parcels and a watershed with 5 percent of the population; compact community zones throughout the western and central part of the county with 80 percent of the population and limited urban services; and rural zones in Oxford and along the Yellow River with 15 percent of the population with large lot septic tank development and agriculture.

Only a few residents were present at the meeting, which was mostly attended by members of the collaborative, and there were no citizen comments about the presentation. However, Oxford City Council member Jim Windham was concerned that the plan did not outline Oxford and the county's plan for a trail system and that the plan also included a high-population community near the Covington Municipal Airport.

"(The airport) does not create communities," he said. "Putting the airport where you anticipate population growth to be is bizarre to me."

Although the trail system wasn't mentioned during the presentation, collaborative members said it is part of Newton County's future. They also said they will continue to take input from members.

"This plan is not cast in stone," said Kathy Morgan, chair of the Newton County Board of Commissioners. "It's a living document."

She said the collaborative will use the plan for water conservation and other projects and it will allow the cities and government to work together; she said the county will continue working on the plan even in 2050.

For now, the collaborative wants each governmental body in the county to sign a resolution that shows their commitment to being a part of the plan. Collaborative representative Shannon Davis, economic development director at the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said the county's expenditures could be $5 billion in 2050 with the projected population. Signing on to the plan could save 30 to 40 percent of that, according to an economist at the University of Georgia, she said.

"Newton County's future -- it's in our hands," Davis said. "Let's work together."

Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said he expects he and the council members will sign the resolution during its next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 1.

"It's good when we work together as cities and the county -- that's the only way to get anything done," Roseberry said. "The main thing is communication and keeping the channels of communication open and knowing what's happening."

The collaborative will present its buy-in plan to other municipalities and agencies over the next couple of months. The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for the Porterdale City Council work session, 5:30 p.m. Monday for the Covington City Council work session, 6 p.m. Tuesday for the Board of Commissioners work session, 7 p.m. Feb. 8 for the Mansfield City Council meeting, 7 p.m. Feb. 9 for the Board of Education work session, 7 p.m. Feb. 15 for the Newborn City Council work session and 8 a.m. Feb. 24 for the Chamber of Commerce board meeting. It made a presentation to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority on Jan. 20.