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What will the Rockdale millage rate be? Question raised after Commissioner Doreen Williams says she will vote for the rollback rate
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CONYERS — Will the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approve the proposed 18.016 millage rate for property taxes, which would generate 7.94% more tax revenue, or change to the rollback rate of 16.69 mills? No one know for sure after Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams sent out a statement Thursday night stating she will not support the tax increase, and Commissioner Sherri Washington said earlier that she is still on the fence.

The proposed rate of 18.016 mills is the same as last year’s rate. But due to property assessments that increased many homes’ value this year, the 18.016 rate would generate 7.94% more tax revenue for the county than it did last year.

The county could adopt a rollback millage rate which would generate the same amount of tax revenue as raised last year. The rollback rate for 2021 would be 16.69 mills. But by keeping the rate the same as last year’s rather than taking the rollback rate, the county is considered seeking an increase of 1.326 mills.

Rockdale County is one of two governments funded by property taxes, along with the Rockdale County School System. Of the money collected, the school system receives 82% and the county receives 18%. The Rockdale County Board of Education has already approved taking their rollback rate this year, which means the only increase would come from the county, which uses the revenue to fund its budget.

A total of 13 residents came out to speak at the first two public hearings on the proposed 2021 millage rate for Rockdale County. None of them spoke in favor of the 18.016 mills rate, with many of them stating that the increased tax revenue is more than residents still recovering from the pandemic can afford. Some also noted that the county is receiving $8.8 million in American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government and urged the commissioner to use those funds to help residents rather than raising their taxes.

At the second public hearing held Thursday morning at 9 a.m. at the J.P. Carr Community Center, Post 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington assured residents that she has not made up her mind on the millage rate.

“When we set the budget, it’s not just the Board of Commissioners, it’s everything — the clerks, the courts, the sheriff, the fire department, everything that we do — so we have to take all of those additional things into consideration when we are making those decisions,” Washington said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been in meeting with finance already, looking to see what our best tactic may be. I want you to know that whatever decision we make, each one of us have put a whole lot of thought and prayer into what it takes to move this county forward.”

Thursday night, Post 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams released a statement saying that she had heard the citizens’ comments and “taking several things into consideration I have decided that I will not support the tax increase for the following reasons:

1. Property values have risen at an unusually high rate this year, and some seniors and hardworking families do not have the benefit of increased salaries to adjust for that amount of inflation.

2. In spite of the pandemic, we have exceeded our expectations in revenue for both the HOST and the SPLOST sales tax.

3. We have received two allocations, and expect a third in May 2022, of unexpected federal funding that can be used for tax relief for our citizens.

4. Even with the rollback rate, we will collect $1.3M dollars in revenue over our current 2021 approved budget amount.

5. We are still in the middle of a pandemic with households and citizens, even some who are fully vaccinated, dealing with poor health and the effects of Covid-19

“I understand that this may delay some of the projects the county has planned. But I remain committed to prioritizing A) economic development and B) public safety, especially regarding our mental health population that is involved with the criminal justice system,” Williams said.

“The people have brought clear, articulate reasoning and advocacy to my attention. I hear you, and I respect your input. I do not make the decision individually, but you can count on me to move that the board vote to take the rollback rate.”

The final public hearing on the millage rate will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 24, in the Assembly Hall at 901 Main Street in Conyers. Following the hearing, the Board of Commissioners will hold a called meeting in the Assembly Hall to set the county millage rate.

Newton approves convenience store at Ga. Highway 11 and I-20, settles lawwuit
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COVINGTON — A Conditional Use Permit that will allow development of a gas station with underground fuel tanks at Ga. Highway 11 and Interstate 20 was approved by the Newton Board of Commissioners Tuesday night.

The project, which drew opposition from the mostly rural area that is part of the Brick Store Overlay zoning district, is a scaled down version of a plan that initially included a large travel center and truck stop on the site. The Board of Commissioners rejected that rezoning request in February. Subsequent negotiations between developer Jones Petroleum/JPC Design Construction, area residents and the county’s Development Services Department resulted in a plan that meets the requirements of the Brick Store Overlay and does not include fueling for tractor trailer trucks or other amenities associated with a truck stop.

Developers agreed to a number of special conditions for the project, including limiting fueling to 16 motor vehicle pumps (a total of 32 fueling positions); prohibiting extended parking except for employees during working hours; prohibiting overnight customer parking; prohibiting fueling positions for tractor-trailer trucks; and no public access to showers or laundry facilities on the premises. The project will have three restaurants and possibly four.

Despite those special conditions, residents were not completely satisfied with the negotiations. River Cove Meadows resident Wayne Pugh said he would like to see the operating hours begin at 5 a.m. and end at 11:30 p.m. rather than the 12:30 a.m. that was approved. River Cove Resident LeAnn Long objected to the size of the convenience store, which was initially going to be 8,000 square feet. The plan approved Tuesday includes a convenience store of 24,900 square feet.

However, Development Services Director Judy Johnson pointed out that the developer did not need a Conditional Use Permit to build a convenience store of that size. The CUP was needed only for the fueling and underground storage components of the project. The necessary Highway Commercial zoning is also already in place.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards, in whose district the convenience store will be built, said constituents were mostly pleased with the approved plan. “It’s a sigh of relief, to be honest with you,” he said.

Richard Milam, the attorney for Jones Petroleum noted that the process of obtaining the CUP had been protracted.

“We think we have a good compromise here that will be something good for this community,” said Milam. “It will not be a truck stop; the conditions make that as clear as you possibly can …”

When the Board of Commissioners initially rejected Jones Petroleum’s request for a CUP and rezoning in February, the developer filed a lawsuit against the county. Following Tuesday night’s vote to approve the CUP, commissioners approved a settlement of the lawsuit with Jones Petroleum. Under the terms of the settlement, Jones Petroleum agreed to drop the lawsuit and the county agreed to initiate a rezoning of property adjacent to the convenience center site on Ga. Highway 11 that is zoned Agricultural. Commissioners will seek to have the property zoned Highway Commercial to match the zoning of the convenience center site. There was no monetary settlement.

Newton approves reduction in millage
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COVINGTON — Newton County’s millage rate for the fiscal 2022 general fund budget has been set at 11.145.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to set the new millage rate, which is a decrease from the 12.92 mills for fiscal year 2021.

Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr pointed out at a previous public hearing on the millage rate that this is the third year in a row that the county has been able to reduce its millage rate.

The millage reduction will translate to $33 in savings on a home valued at $200,000.

The millage will fund a $77.6 million general fund budget, which includes an average 4.5% pay increase for all county employees. The budget also includes the addition of 12 positions in various government departments and 23 in Fire Services in order to staff two new fire stations in the county. Some other positions will be converted from part-time to full-time and reclassified.

Hawnethia Williams announces her retirement from the Covington City Council
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COVINGTON — Hawnethia Williams, currently the longest-serving Covington City Council member, has announced her retirement at the end of her term in January. Williams, who has served four terms (16 years), made the announcement Monday night during council comments at the end of their regular meeting.

“I want thank everybody for all my years of being on the council, especially my constituents, my friends and family and supporters, and especially my colleagues here on the council, the city manager and mayor, chief, employees of the city and all those who are connected to the city,” Williams said.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this ride for 16 years as being a public servant, and I feel that I served with confidence as with the other council members, because a servant is one who wants to serve. It has been hard the last couple of years (dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath), but with the leadership of the city and staff, the challenge has been received, accepted, and we have done well with the challenge.

“With much prayer and thought and talking with my family, I have decided to retire from being on council.”

Williams, who was born and raised in Covington, apologized to the council for the way in which she announced her retirement.

“This was not the way I wanted for you to learn about it,” she said. “It was my plan to talk to you (the council) about it before it came out, but because someone chose to reveal it on Facebook without my permission, I feel that I need to extend the courtesy and professionalism to everyone here of what my intention was.”

Qualifying for the three council posts currently held by Williams, Anthony Henderson and Susie Keck, began Monday. Two people — Charika Davis and George Scott Scoggins — have already qualified for Williams’ West Ward, Post 2 seat. Henderson and Keck have also qualified without opposition.

At the meeting Monday night, Williams gave her blessing to Davis to succeed her.

“On an upbeat note for my constituents in Covington, I will be supporting Miss Charita Davis,” Williams said. “I feel that she will represent all the west side, just as I have been doing.”

Williams has always said she represents not just the people in her district, but all of Covington. Over the years she has been a very vocal supporter of the city as a whole, and equally vocal when she felt one side of the city was not being treated as fairly as the other. Williams has also been a peacemaker at times when city and county elected officials have harped at each other, reminding them that they all are working for the good of both the city and county.

Williams said despite stepping down from the council that she will continue to support Covington.

“We will continue to work hand-in-hand, because I will be here until January,” she told her fellow council members. “But I will not stop working for this city, because this is the city I love. And I will continue to be a thorn — a good thorn. But thank you for the support that I received.”