COVINGTON — Newton County commissioners approved a $68.9 million M&O budget Tuesday night after Chairman Marcello Banes cast a tie-breaking vote — the first of his tenure as chairman.

Despite across-the-board praise for County Manager Lloyd Kerr and Finance Director Nicole Cross for their work in preparing and presenting the budget, commissioners were divided on the final spending plan. Stan Edwards and Nancy Schulz did not support it; Commissioner J.C. Henderson abstained, saying he didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision; and Commissioners Demond Mason and Ronnie Cowan voted in favor of the budget.

The fiscal year 2020 budget, which is 5.7% greater than the revised 2019 budget, is based on an overall projected 9% increase in the value of all taxable property in the county. Commissioners expect to keep the millage rate at the 2019 level of 13.441, which is still considered a tax increase because assessed property values are greater than last year. Commissioners will hold two public hearings in July before setting the millage rate — July 22 and 29.

Edwards, who had lobbied for a budget based on 7% growth in the tax digest, said he would support a budget that did not include increases in funding for capital improvements and contingencies — which represented a total increase of about $709,000. He pointed out that budget objectives of pay increases and new positions would still be met at that level.

Banes said Wednesday he had not expected to be called upon to break a tie vote on the budget, but he was comfortable with the outcome.

“I wish we could have had a 5-0 vote, but I do understand the makeup of the board, and I do understand why we could not get a 5-0 vote,” he said. “But I think this budget puts the county in the best position it can be in for the next fiscal year.”

Banes also pointed out that this is the first time in several years the Board of Commissioners has approved a budget before the new fiscal year begins.

“We don’t have to get a (Tax Anticipation Note). We did not do a tax increase, and I think we got everything we need in the budget,” he said.

Some highlights of the budget include:

♦ Step level increases for all employees for a total of $1,823,101;

♦ A health insurance premium increase of approximately $445,000;

♦ Funding to initiate a fleet management program at $200,000;

♦ An increase of $300,000 transferred to the Capital Improvement Fund;

♦ Contingency funding of $409,014; and

Seven new positions, totaling $373,589 — two tag/tax technicians in the


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.