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Collaborative discusses '50 Build Out

OXFORD -- Six years into the Newton County Leadership Collaborative, members are discussing ways to make sure they stay on target with their mission of implementing the 2050 Build Out Plan.

The collaborative is a partnership between the county and municipal governments, the Newton County School System, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the Chamber of Commerce. Representatives gathered Wednesday at Oxford City Hall for the mid-year meeting of the collaborative to discuss where to go from here.

The 2050 Build Out Plan created by the collaborative and supported by local governments identifies key strategies for Newton's future including protecting clean water, creating communities and corridors and coordinating public investments in comprehensive and economic development and land conservation.

The collaborative has three offshoot committees: comprehensive development, intergovernmental communications and comprehensive funding. Members in recent weeks have said the committees are losing steam and there is confusion over what they need to be doing.

"We need to better define our work and better understand what each entity is doing," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan.

The group agreed they need to have more regular meetings, perhaps once a quarter, with updates from each committee, as well as make an effort to communicate via e-mail more. Other suggestions were to update the Leadership Collaborative's Web site and provide the media with regular updates of activities.

Since its formation in 2004, the Leadership Collaborative has initiated some 48 strategies, including the 2050 Build Out Planning, an economic development strategy, and a land conservation strategy. The question now will be how to simplify those and work to implement them, said Kay Lee, a coordinator of the group. Plans are in the works to have the strategies on file at the Newton County Library and at The Center near downtown Covington for public inspection.

Oxford City Councilman Jim Windham said all the planning isn't obvious to the public if there aren't concrete results. He noted that several years ago the county undertook numerous charrettes that generated lots of public participation, but wondered what has come of those plans.

"From the public's viewpoint, nothing has changed. It's business as usual," Windham said. "They said what they wanted strongly and nothing's happening in their eyes."

But several leaders disagreed, including Commissioner Mort Ewing, who served on the county's first charrette, held in the Brick Store community at Hub Junction. The charrette resulted in the county's first development node and the passage of stringent zoning standards for the area, which is now where Georgia Perimeter College is located, he said.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz also pointed to the recently passed Almon/Crowell overlay that was passed as a result of community input.

Hunter Hall, president of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said the Leadership Collaborative itself is generating buzz around the state. Candidates being interviewed to spearhead economic development for the Chamber have been impressed with the group's collaboration, he said.

"To a tee, their jaws just drop. Every single candidate we have has said 'I can sell this community. I can sell this community based on this,'" Hall said. "This Leadership Collaborative has done so much heavy lifting to be able to sell Newton County and recruit jobs and capital investment ... keep your hands on the plow and don't look back."

Windham noted that public input in the past was overwhelmingly in support of trails and promoting walkability, but, "The only trails we have are one in Oxford and a painted line on Floyd Street," he said.

Morgan said the county needs to have a master trails plan that ties the various separate plans together. David Waller with the Water and Sewerage Authority said it's important to get trails on the ground so those in opposition can see their benefits. Funding for the planned trail from the library to Eastside High School is $450,000 short, he said. Waller suggested transferring money from the planned trail from Turner Lake Complex to Porterdale to the Eastside trail, which he said is shovel ready. Morgan said the county is checking with the Department of Transportation to see if that can be done without jeopardizing future funding for the Porterdale trail.

But Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby said he's opposed to that.

"I disagree with moving funds. The city has already cut the area for that trail. If anybody's going to come walk on a trail, they're going to want to walk along the river and see some pretty scenery rather than along the highway," he said.