COVINGTON — The Covington Newton County Chamber of Commerce hosted an informal panel Monday afternoon allowing elected officials, including the Board of Commissioners, surrounding city councils and other Newton entities, to present their concerns to local House and Senate representatives before the 2020 legislative session got underway on Tuesday.
Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, Rep. Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers and Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, were in attendance to answer questions from local officials, several of whom expressed concern about impending state budget cuts.
Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes said he’d like to see more funding for local transportation projects.
“I just want to ask what can we do in terms of getting more funding for transportation? Including road projects and transportation for seniors and maybe some of our college students,” said Banes.
“If you have a list of projects you want us to look at and present to the DOT, we will gladly do so,” said Strickland.
Strickland also recommended to Banes that his board collaborate with local government officials to come up with a healthy list of priorities so that he, Belton and Dickerson can get to work quickly and not waste time having things tossed into special projects.
“Georgia is building and working on roads more than any other state,” affirmed Belton. “You don’t have to worry about transportation having any cuts.”
Commissioner Nancy Schulz asked representatives if she needed to reaffirm a stance against H.B. 302, a bill relating to buildings, housing and local government that would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations for building design elements for one- or two-family dwellings.
Strickland and Belton assured that reaffirmation was not needed and that they both oppose the bill and will do so if it makes it to the Senate.
Secondly, Schulz expressed concerns about budget cuts being made to Newton County’s and Georgia’s mental health care efforts.
“I just want to know how much is going to be cut,” asked Schulz.
“The final version of budget recommendations has not come out, but one thing I can say about working closely with Gov. Kemp is that one of his top priorities is mental health,” said Strickland. “I think, hopefully, that his legacy will be mental health reform.”
“In reference to the budget, there will be a lot of cuts, but one thing you should know is that education will not have any cuts — K-12, Regents, (Technical College System of Georgia) — transportation, and my impression is that almost all of health care will not be cut,” said Belton.
Covington Mayor Steve Horton, City Councilwoman Susie Keck, Mansfield Mayor G.W. Davis Jr. and Covington Housing Authority Director Shamica Turner all addressed their individual concerns.
Horton spoke briefly on air quality concerns, ongoing DOT projects and the House presenting a unified front.
“As you enter this session, we hope you speak in unison and let people know that you, our state officials and us, we all stand together,” said Horton.
Horton also extended an invitation to representatives to attend a City Council meeting to get a good look of what “Covington is trying to do.”
Keck asked legislators about their stance on short-term rentals.
“Due to different regulations all over the state, we are kind stuck in the middle,” said Strickland. “We believe that it is a city’s active authority to regulate ... we do have a piece of legislation drafted defining what a short-term rental qualifies as, but we are not sure if it will be presented in this (session).”
Mayor Davis asked legislators to keep small towns in mind this session.
“Our town is a turn-of-the-century of town, and we ask that you continue to look into our internet access, road projects and start a dialogue addressing rural-specific concerns,” said Davis.
Lastly, Turner asked legislators to consider any future matters in terms of affordable housing and stable rent.
“At the end of the day people need a place to come home to,” said Turner. “The Chamber and economic development have done a great job bringing companies and jobs to Newton County, but with these jobs, these people and families need housing that they can afford to live in.”
Turner said that she hasn’t seen any pieces of legislation supporting affordable housing efforts.
“Anything that goes towards grants for affordable housing and housing for the mentally ill, or for people leaving the prison system would be beneficial for the entire community,” said Turner.
Dickerson informed Turner that she has someone in the Department of Community Affairs she could speak to directly and she would be glad to help.
Stay up to date with the 2020 Legislative session at www.legis.ga.gov/en-US/default.aspx.