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Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival blooms again
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Forty looks good on the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival returned this year — after a pandemic-related hiatus last year — to celebrate its 40th birthday. Thousands of people flocked to the event at the Georgia International Horse Park on Saturday to enjoy the festival food and fun in the spring sunshine. Inclement weather shortened the two-day event on Sunday.

Rockdale, Newton schools to receive millions in federal stimulus funds

ATLANTA — Newton and Rockdale county public school systems will receive millions in federal stimulus funding under the American Rescue Plan. Of the $3.8 billion awarded to the state, Newton County will receive $42.9 million, while Rockdale will receive $32.8 million.

The ARP funds are allocated based on a district’s proportionate share of Title I funding – for example, if a school district received 2% of Georgia’s overall share of Title I funding in fiscal year 2021, it will receive 2% of the ARP allocation. This funding formula is required by federal law.

The ARP legislation requires that school districts set aside at least 20% of the funds they receive to address student learning loss. The remaining funds are flexible and can be used to support at-risk student populations, distance/remote learning, school meals, mental and physical health, supplemental learning and addressing learning loss, facilities and equipment, continuity of core staff and services, and more.

School systems must spend the funds over the next three-and-a-half school years.

“These funds will help Georgia schools address learning loss and ensure the safety of students, staff and families,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods. “I encourage all school districts to take advantage of these resources to continue or expand safe in-person learning options for students.”

According to Rockdale Public Schools, expenditures for the ARP funds will be determined by the Office of Superintendent in collaboration with the executive cabinet. Spending proposals will be presented to the Board of Education’s finance committee as well as in public board presentations. Funding priorities for additional expenditures are expected to to be identified later this spring. Newton Board of Education members plan to discuss the expenditure of ARP funds at their April 27 meeting.

This is the third round of federal stimulus funding Georgia schools have received, following CARES 1 allocations in May 2020 and CARES 2 allocations in January 2021.

Like CARES 2 funds, these funds do not have a provision requiring districts to make funding available to private/independent schools within their geographic area. Instead, Congress provided a separate allocation for private/independent schools, called the Emergency Assistance for Non-public Schools (EANS).

County's performance during pandemic focus of 2021 Rockdale State of the County address
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CONYERS — The success of Rockdale County to serve its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic last year was the focal point of the county’s virtual 2021 State of the County address by Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. on March 18.

Nesbitt said the county began planning for dealing with the pandemic in March 2020 after attending the National Association of County Officials (NACO) conference in Washington, D.C., and hearing from Dr. Robert Redfield, the then-director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The BOC ordered new guidelines to reduce the possibility of staff members and residents coming in contact with the virus, had county facilities were sanitized twice a day, and closing county buildings to the public, which is currently still the case, with staff still working inside.

Nesbitt held a moment of silence to honor and remember family members, friends and loved ones who lost their lives to COVID-19.

He also thanked the first responders in the county — EMA, EMS, deputies, and firefighters — who continued to serve the public as they did before the pandemic, thanking them for their diligence, hard work and sacrifice.

Nesbitt then spotlighted county departments and general achievements.

Planning and Development

While other counties saw a decline in revenue from licenses and permits, Rockdale Planning and Development did not:

♦ 903 residential permits were issued, totaling $482,632.

♦ 170 commercial permits were issued, totaling $88,199.

♦ 1,737 business and alcohol licenses were issued, totaling $260,752.

♦ $779,376 in impact fees were collected, a 6% increase over 2019.

Economic Development

♦ A new wastewater treatment plant was developed near Salem High School, increasing the county’s capacity to treat water for new construction.

♦ Several local industries announced expansions and increased hiring during the pandemic.

♦ Great Southern Wood expanded, and Rockdale Technology Center was constructed, representing $1 million in local property tax.

♦ The TV and film industry brought in about $1 million in property taxes.

Inclusiveness and Equity

Nesbitt said Rockdale County continually strives to proactively identify business practices that enhance inclusiveness and equity, and that do not discriminate against any person or business, including businesses owned by women, people of color, and other historically disadvantaged groups.

“I believe the inclusion of procurement language within our vendor selection process that is consistent and applicable to all will serve as a key step towards Rockdale County’s effort to support diversity throughout the contracting process,” said Nesbitt.

General Services

(Formerly Recreation and Maintenance)

♦ Senior Services division provided provided 57,261 meals, which is a 120% increase compared to the pre-COVID-19 report.

♦ Additionally Senior Services provided $4,704 worth of personal protective equipment and 424 virtual activities to a cumulative total of 26,373 seniors, with 3,635 medical and personal transportation trips covering 12,051 miles, and more than 200 hours of supportive phone calls during the friendly visiting program.

♦ Senior Services delivered $2,871 worth of material aid to senior homes and 427 pounds of pet food to households involved with the Pet Bites program.

♦ Through March 2021, Senior Services pre-registered at least 411 older adults for COVID vaccinations, actively scheduled 400-plus senior citizens for confirmed appointments, and has responded proactively to 904-plus incoming and outgoing telephone calls in support of vaccination efforts.

♦ The renovation of the Johnson Park Recreation Center continues with an estimated completion date later this year. Improvements include a new state-of-the-art weight room, new basketball court with increased seating capacity and two team locker rooms, an indoor track, a new teen center, and the pool floor has been resurfaced, with the pool area being expanded to include five additional meeting rooms.

Department of Transportation

♦ Completed 120 work orders pertaining to litter and trash in 2020.

♦ Resurfaced 16 miles of county roads through SPLOST funding.

♦ Installed high mast lighting at Exit 78 — Sigman Road, Exit 84 — Salem Road — the gateway intersections into Rockdale County — and on I-20, with installation continuing through the next year.


♦ Replaced a total of 1,625 linear feet of pipe, which is approximately 11% of the 14,000 linear feet they plan to replace by 2025.

Directors and Judges

Nesbitt concluded the State of the County address by noting the hiring of several directors and judicial appointments.

♦ Margaret Moore-Jackson was appointed to serve as the director of Technology Services in October 2020.

♦ Gerald May was appointed deputy director of Technology Services in December 2020.

♦ Melissa Mims is Rockdale County’s new communications manager. She will partner with the Office of the Chairman to further develop strong collaborative relationships between businesses, industries, community stakeholders and the county government.

♦ Former State Court Judge Nancy Bills was appointed as the new Superior Court judge of Rockdale County after Judge David Irwin retired.

♦ Former Probate Judge Clarence Cuthpert Jr. was appointed as the new State Court judge, following Bills’ appointment as the new Superior Court judge.

Newton working on plan to replace aging Sheriff's Office fleet
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Ezell Brown

COVINGTON — Newton County is working on a plan that will upgrade the aging patrol fleet of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Ezell Brown spoke to commissioners at their March 16 meeting, pointing out that most of his deputies are driving vehicles with high mileage — 27 vehicles have nearly 200,000 miles, 49 have between 200,000 and 300,000 miles, and nine have between 300,000 and 400,000 miles. Another 60 are just under the threshold of 150,000 miles.

“Each year we come before the board and we ask for vehicles,” said Brown. “When we ask for vehicles, we generally get six in the course of that year. Getting six, if you look at where we are today, it would take almost 30 years to replenish the fleet. That is the reason we are behind the 8 ball as it relates to vehicles. It’s sad, but in my Investigative Division, if someone has to travel to another state, they either have to borrow my car or we have to seek out a vehicle we feel is road-worthy to make it to that destination.”

Brown added that the current condition of the fleet has a negative effect on staffing and morale. In addition, he said the NCSO spends more than $300,000 per year on maintenance just to keep the vehicles operating.

Brown said the department needs at least 25 new vehicles to get the fleet out of the “danger zone.” He said a fully-equipped Dodge Charger costs about $26,800 — or $670,000 for 25 cars.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said county does not currently have the funds to purchase 25 new vehicles; however, he said there is enough money remaining in the Sheriff’s Office budget, along with $134,000 in capital funds, to purchase eight Dodge Chargers.

In addition, Kerr said the county anticipates $200,000 in surplus collections of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds that will be available in six to eight months that could go toward and additional seven vehicle purchases.

Kerr said he did not see any room in the current budget to make additional vehicle purchases and suggested that commissioners plan in the next budget cycle to incorporate more funding for vehicles.

“We can go ahead with purchasing the eight immediatly and another seven in six months, and then work as many as possible into the upcoming budget,” said Kerr.

“We just don’t have that kind of money just sitting around somewhere unless we dip into our reserve, and I do not recommend that we do that,” added Kerr. “Once you start, we never stop, and we need that reserve in the event of an emergency situation.”

Even with planning ahead, Kerr said trying to budget 25 new vehicle purchases a year is a tall order.

“That’s a lot of money… if we can budget $300,000 like we did this year, and then we just need another $300,000 … I think we can figure out a way to do that and get us as close as possible.”

All five commissioners voiced support for upgrading the Sheriff’s Office fleet. District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan, who once worked as an officer for the Covington Police Department, said equipment is critical to an officer’s job performance.

“Law enforcement people will put up with bad pay; they’ll put up with bad benefits, bad working hours, but a motor vehicle and equipment is critical to morale. It really is,” he said. “You can’t expect these law enforcement people to ride around in junk.”