SPLOST may build Ag facility

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 -- Proponents of a $1.1 million agricultural center proposed by the Newton County Farm Bureau say there's plenty of demand for such a facility.

Construction of the center would be paid for through SPLOST funds. The intent is to provide a space for groups like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, as well as local farmers, to host livestock shows and sales and educational programming.

There has been no formal plan developed for the center, nor any specific location revealed, but Farm Bureau President Brent Galloway said the hope is that land will be donated so SPLOST funds could be used solely for construction. Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said commissioners would approve a detailed plan for construction and use for the facility before it is built.

Chris Wallace of the Piedmont Cattlemen's Association said his organization supports the project. The county's youth exhibit livestock and other animals at a very small arena at Newton High School, he said. A recent FFA show there included 47 livestock projects.

There are also a lot of Newton residents involved in equine shows and events who now have to travel to the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers; that wouldn't be necessary if the agricultural center is built, he said.

In addition to providing a showplace for cattle, swine, sheep and other animals, the center could be used for educational programs, such as equipment safety courses, Wallace said.

Galloway previously told the Citizen that the plan is for the facility to be a "one-stop shop" for agriculture-related services, such as the Newton County Extension Service and Soil and Water Conservation office. It would include a meeting room for up to 300 people that could be rented by residents and organizations and converted to a cattle show or sale area when needed. There would also be outside show areas.

The idea is for the facility to be self-supporting through rent and user fees, Galloway said.

"I know some people are concerned about the maintenance and operations of it. We feel like it would be utilized so much it would create enough rent to maintain it," he said.

If that doesn't happen, as with all capital projects on the SPLOST, the county is responsible for maintenance and operations. But Galloway said he believes there is enough interest from various agricultural-related organizations to raise funds to help pay for those costs.

Similar facilities exist in Walton, Morgan and Henry counties and they are regularly packed, he said.

"Our county has been built from farmers and landowners. For many, many years the biggest burden has come to large property owners, and large property owners get the least benefit from county services of anybody," he said. "We feel like it's time this part of the community gets something back they could utilize."