COVINGTON — A town hall meeting will be held tonight regarding the proposed ZIP code change in east Newton.
The meeting, hosted by District 1 Commissioners John Douglas and Chairman Keith Ellis, will take place at 7 p.m. at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, located at 55 Ga. Highway 229 in Social Circle.
“We want to explain the importance of voting for a Covington address. This process should have happened well before the ballots were sent, but we did not know the voting was getting under way,” Douglas said.
The U.S. Postal Service recently sent ballots to the more than 600 addresses that would be affected by the change from a Social Circle to a Covington ZIP code.
The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties asked for the change to honor a request by Baxter International, which is locating in Stanton Springs, bringing 1,500 jobs and a $1 billion investment to the area.
Whether the Postal Service changes the ZIP code to 30014 will depend on the results of the survey. Surveys must be postmarked by April 11 to be counted.
“I don’t have the official tally at this point. However, I’m told that those received so far are running strongly against the ZIP code change,” said Michael Miles, spokesman for the Postal Service. The decision will be based on the majority vote of the number of surveys returned.
A spokeswoman for Baxter said she does not have information on why company representatives want a Covington address.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously expressed support for the ZIP change at a March 19 meeting.
“I think it’s a real honor for us that Baxter would like to have their ZIP code be our ZIP code,” District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said. “I think that speaks volumes for the type of community we are and the type of community we project and I feel honored they have asked us to do that.”
Commissioner Levie Maddox said the hospital, sheriff’s office and public service providers all support the address change.
Ellis, speaking as chairman and a member of the Joint Development Authority and Industrial Development Authority, stated: “In the name of teamwork and unity, to build relationships for the health of my beloved Newton County, for the sake of the region, to increase the efficiency of emergency services, for tax relief through economic development, in the name of new and better jobs in this research diamond, I endorse and support the ZIP code change as requested by Baxter International. I implore you to stand with me and with Stanton Springs. There will be an inconvenience for some; it will pay off for Newton County for our future. I’d like for us to try to implore all those people who live down in that area to stand with us as well and vote yes for that change.”
Douglas, who represents the district and whose own address would be affected, said at the March 19 meeting he had explored several alternatives to try and get the ZIP code for Stanton Springs changed without affecting residents, “But the post office has told us today through Congressman (Paul) Broun’s office that’s out of the question — it just won’t happen.”
“The guidance is these ballots, the results of this vote, is ironclad,” Douglas said.
Douglas said he had asked if Congress could direct the post office to make Stanton Springs part of the 30014 ZIP code, “and the answer was that Congressman Broun and the House as a whole consider that like a local bill here, an earmark … and neither Congressman Broun nor the House will allow earmarks now, so that door was slammed shut on us this afternoon.”
Douglas said residents will have a chance to speak their minds at the town hall meeting.
“Certainly we’re delighted to have Baxter in the community,” Douglas said. “It’s an earthshaking development for us to get a company of that size. We all want to make them feel welcome. But the only way that we can give them a Covington address now is if we vote for that. So if you haven’t voted, I recommend that you vote for Covington and let’s put this behind us. Let’s put this behind us; let’s continue to be good neighbors with Baxter and move on from there.”