SPLOST to pay off $8M debt

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Editor's Note: This story is part of a multi-part series on projects that will be funded if SPLOST 2011 is approved by voters in the March 15 special election. The SPLOST is expected to generate $57.6 million over a six-year collection period.

COVINGTON -- A total of $8.5 million in county debt will be paid for through SPLOST 2011 revenue, and that's one expense that must be paid whether or not the SPLOST referendum passes.

Outstanding debt service of $5 million will be paid on the Newton County Administration Building. Constructed in 2008 and funded in part with SPLOST 2005 funds, the Administration Building houses several county departments, including Development Services, the Tax Commissioners and Tax Assessors offices and the Board of Elections.

The remaining balance, including interest, on the building is $11.2 million, according to Administrative Officer John Middleton. Debt service was approved for 20 years. Debt service on the building has historically been paid by SPLOST, and as with all debt service, will have to be paid out of the general fund if SPLOST is not approved, to prevent the county from being in default and creating a negative impact on the county's bond rating.

SPLOST also includes $3 million in debt service for jail pods at the Newton County Detention Center. The pods were constructed in 2003 and funded by issuance Certificates of Participation. Debt service was approved for 15 years. The total remaining is about $3.8 million. Debt service on the jail pods has historically been paid for out of SPLOST proceeds.

Finally, $500,000 in payment of debt service for the expansion of the Newton County Landfill is included. The estimated remaining outstanding debt service is $4 million. To date the county has drawn down $2.8 million.

Plans are being reviewed by the state for a landfill expansion to be funded with a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan. The estimated maturity of the loan is 20 years.

SPLOST will also pay for replacement of about 100 county vehicles at a cost of $2.5 million.

The lion's share of vehicles -- at least half -- will be for the Newton County Sheriff's Office, said Morgan. Those vehicles are most critical, are used the most and must be in top shape because they often travel at high speeds, she said. Vehicles have not been purchased for the Sheriff's Office since 2009, when an order of 20 was cut down to 10 due to budget cuts, she said.

The county's fleet will be evaluated to determine which vehicles should be replaced. Morgan said most vehicles in the county's fleet have over 150,000 miles, with some vehicles in excess of 200,000. There are 585 vehicles in the county's inventory.

An additional $500,000 has been designated to purchase equipment for the Public Works Department, for an asphalt spreader and a grader to be used in road construction. Both pieces of equipment run about $250,000 each, Morgan said.

The current machines are regularly causing delays because they must be repaired often.

"The cost increases every year on (parts) we have to replace," she said. The plan is to keep the current equipment on hand for back up.

Also, Newton County Animal Control will receive $100,000 in SPLOST dollars, for purchase of new kennels and/or office improvements.

Director Teri Key-Hooson initially asked for funding for a new facility. Morgan said the $100,000 will be a stop-gap measure to improve things at the current location until more funding is available.

Key-Hooson said the facility on Lower River Road is overcrowded, with 18 kennels on the floor and six quarantined runs for bite cases. Those numbers need to be at least doubled to keep up with the animal population coming through the facility, she said. The facility has not had any major renovations since it opened in 1990.

"We've stretched the limits of this building. We were hoping for a new building, but at this point, we just really, truly need space," Key-Hooson said, adding that she would like to put a prefabricated building in the back to house more kennels.