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Posted: December 6, 2011 9:00 p.m.

Airport land to be cleared for development

The city is preparing the Covington Municipal Airport for future development, and the council approved the clear cutting of 16 acres of trees on land south of the runway.

The Covington City Council approved a contract with Madison-based M.K. Crowell Grading, which will clear cut the trees at no monetary cost in exchange for keeping the lumber.

The city will have to purchase construction fencing to protect the creek running from City Pond southeast along the line of trees. The fencing will be installed by the land application department, Airport Engineer Vincent Passariello said. The land will be cleared up to 25 feet from the creek.

The land will be clear-cut, but the tree stumps will not be removed. Grubbing, as the stump removal process is called, requires a separate land disturbance permit, Passariello said.

This area cannot be developed until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves a construction permit; however, Passariello said M.K. Crowell was available to do the clear cutting now, so city officials moved forward with that preliminary step.

The city is planning to move all major operations to the southeastern side of the airport property, which will be accessible by a new entrance off Ga. Highway 142. Plans call for a new $1.5 million terminal building complete with restaurant and several offices, as well as hangar spaces, parking, a taxiway and another fuel farm.

The terminal will be located close to Ga. 142, east of the creek, in an area which can be developed now. The first step will be to create a new entrance and lay the asphalt.

City Manager Steve Horton told the council he hoped to bring it concept designs for the overall layout and the terminal building sometime in January. A initial concept was presented in October, but Horton said the Georgia Department of Transportation requested some changes.

In other airport news, Horton said he will ask the council in January to approve transitioning the duties of airport manager, which currently fall upon the city manager, to Passariello, who is airport engineer and oversees operations.

Horton said the airport is essentially its own operation and is not related to other city business and that it would make more sense for a dedicated employee to be official airport manager. He suggested the transition take place from January to June 30. Horton is planning to retire sometime in 2012.

Next meeting
Because of the Christmas holiday, the city council will have its second monthly meeting Dec. 13.

City pension plan
The council approved the city contributing a maximum of 6 percent of an employee's salary to that employee retirement plan, as the city continues its transition from a defined-benefit, or traditional pension, plan to a defined-contribution plan, such as a 401k.

The city will place 4 percent of an employee's salary in a retirement account regardless of whether or not that employee invests any money themselves. The city will then contribute up to another 2 percent of salary by matching 50 percent of an employee's investment. So, in order for an employee to receive the maximum contribution from the city, he would have to contribute 4 percent of his salary.
The switch will only affect new employees and some employees not fully vested in the pension plan.

Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan also asked the council to reconsider its previous decision to also move to the defined-contribution system. The council and mayor wanted future elected officials to be on the same footing as new employees, but Cowan said the switch will severely affect elected officials' because their salaries are so small. The mayor makes $12,000 a year, while the council members make $6,000.
The change will only affect new elected officials, but the council agreed to have a work session on the subject.

Sunday sales delayed
Because of an error in the legal advertisement required for city ordinance changes, Sunday package sales in Covington will not be allowed until Sunday, Dec. 18 at the earliest.

The council will vote Dec. 13 on the final reading of the ordinance, and, if approved, the ordinance would go into effect as soon as the mayor signs it. Horton cautioned alcohol retailers not to assume the ordinance will be passed, but to call the acting city clerk at (770) 385-2010 beginning Dec. 14 to ensure the ordinance has been passed and signed.

Quick hits
- Warehouse/Purchasing Clerk Scott Cromer received an award for writing the most fitting slogan to describe the city's three-year strategic plan. His slogan was "Preserving our past, improving our present and planning our future."
- Kara Hipps was sworn in Monday as the city's newest police officer. Hipps' husband, Justin, is a corporal with the Newton County Sheriff's Office. Police Chief Stacey Cotton said Hipps was the second straight recruit to graduate with honors from the police academy.
- Several business renewed their alcohol licenses, including Indian Creek Golf Club, despite the fact the course closed in November. The club only renewed its license for the restaurant not the greens.
- Councilman Chris Smith said the committee formed to revise and update the city's charter hopes to present its recommend changes early next year.
- The city purchased a dump truck-mounted salt spreader and snow plow for $24,697.

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