SOCIAL CIRCLE -- About 60 residents of east Newton attended a town hall meeting regarding a proposed address change in their area Tuesday night, and most who spoke were opposed.
The meeting took place at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.
More than 600 addresses south of I-20, mostly residential, would be impacted by a ZIP code change from the Social Circle ZIP code 30025 to a Covington ZIP code of 30014. It's up to those residents if the change will take place; the U.S. Postal Service sent out ballots about two weeks ago. Ballots must be postmarked by April 11 and the address change will occur only if a majority of ballots turned in are in favor, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.
Baxter International, set to locate in Stanton Springs in east Newton, requested a Covington address and members of the Joint Development Authority agreed to support that request, said JDA Chairman Alan Verner.
But residents say it will mean an inconvenience for them, as they'll have to change their address on their driver's licenses, utility and other accounts. Some also said they've checked and insurance costs will increase due to the change.
Brian Hallmark, who's lived in Quail Valley for 40 years, said his wife researched and determined they would have to change about 40 items if their address changes.
"I'm sure the postmaster in Covington would be very happy to rent them a very large postal drawer," he said.
Ricky Mock said he moved out of Covington to Social Circle and runs several businesses. He said he still has thousands of business cards, mugs and caps with his old company address that are useless.
He suggested Baxter get a P.O. Box, adding they can still put the name Covington on the building.
Several residents said a public meeting should have been held earlier.Elected officials agreed. Chairman Keith Ellis noted that he and the two board members present -- John Douglas and Levie Maddox -- have been on the job less than three months and were caught off guard.
Douglas, whose address would be affected by the change, said he knew about the ballot when it came in the mail. "We should have had meetings all over the area before the ballots came out," he said.
Officials said they doubted Baxter representatives realized the request would mean a change of address for more than 600 households.
"I think they identify with us. I think they said very innocently, we want to be a part of them," said Maddox. "I think it was a complimentary thing."
Betty Bledsoe has lived off County Road 229 for 40 years and said she's willing to change her address to accommodate Baxter, which she said will draw more tenants to Stanton Springs and more retail to the area.
Also, "I like living in Newton County and it would be nice if my address reflected that," she said. Bledsoe said she had checked and the change would not impact her taxes or insurance rates, despite all the swirling rumors.
"I think the benefit we would get for our children and grandchildren would greatly outweigh the inconvenience," she said.
But Mary Ellen Todd said she's already voted no, and she wants a good reason why Baxter wants a Covington address.
"I think Baxter needs to be the good neighbor; they're moving in here, they're getting so much stuff... they're getting millions and millions of dollars to come here. I just don't think they need my address too," she said.
Officials noted that Baxter has a track record of being a good corporate citizen and community partner.
Nancy East asked why Baxter can't have a unique ZIP code as allowed by the Postal Service with permission of the local postmaster. She's opposed to the change.
"It's the charm of the name. There's one Social Circle in the United States; there are 17 Covingtons," she said.
Douglas said the postmaster in Athens is in charge of that decision for this area and he said no to giving Baxter a unique ZIP as well as changing only Stanton Springs to the Covington ZIP. Douglas said a request to Congressman Paul Broun to have Congress intervene was also rejected because it is considered an earmark.
Douglas told the crowd he had "gone to the mat" for residents of District 1 by pushing for the BOC to go ahead and implement a 5-acre lot minimum there as recommended by the 2050 Plan; committing to voting against an amendment to the firearms discharge ordinance by the sheriff; and trying to prevent Eastside High School from becoming a theme school.
But a no vote on the ZIP change "makes it doubly difficult to do the things I need to do to protect the quality of life here," he said. Douglas said other commissioners will say, 'You all got egg on our face. We committed to Baxter to be in Covington and now we're not going to do that.' I'm just telling you that puts my back against a wall when I try to help out with things like that."