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Posted: July 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

City puts off bus service idea

A bus service may someday be available for elderly residents of Covington, but not now, not yet.

Monday night, the city council voted 4-2 to ask staff members to explore the idea for next year’s budget, but rejected applying for a state grant to buy busses due Aug. 4 because of its timing.

At its July 7 meeting, the council asked financial coordinator Randy Conner to look into the grant and what it might ultimately cost the city to pursue it. The Georgia Department of Transportation grant, administered by the Atlanta Regional Commission, would buy only busses and a storage garage, not pay for maintenance or drivers. The grant would also require a 20 match from the city, or 10 percent if all busses were handicap-accessible.

Conner crunched the numbers. He said providing a seniors-only service like Social Circle’s would cost Covington $300,000 initially, followed by $292,000 in annual expenses. Social Circle, he said, charges 50 cents for a one-way ride for qualifying seniors (riders must meet age and income requirements), which officials from that city have told him doesn’t cover expenses. Social Circle has a federal grant to help with its program.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the service is needed, but suggested a cooperative could be formed for an expanded service (and shared costs) with Porterdale and Oxford. Johnston said looking into it next year is soon enough: “This is not a tomorrow thing.”

The council agreed 4-2 to pursue the idea, with Keith Dalton and Chris Smith voting no.

Fairground fees tabled

Should Covington charge fees for people reserving pavilions in the Fairgrounds? The question was debated at length and ultimately tabled Monday night.

As summer heats up and requests pick up to use the facilities, Johnston asked the council whether fees of some sort to help with cleaning the park might be advisable.

Councilwoman Janet Goodman suggested a fee of $150, refundable if the users picked everything up. Smith suggested a slightly higher fee of $250. But Deputy City Manager Billy Bouchillon said it would be tough to determine what’s clean enough for a refund; in addition, the city always absorbs some cost when the park is used, including utility bills.
“You’ve got to recoup your costs on that,” Dalton said. “There’s got to be something there.”

Johnston asked if the council wanted to rent the park’s open space, in addition to the closed and open pavilions. City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said something like that was already in place, with people able to request the fields and open pavilion, or the closed pavilion, or both.

Dalton suggested tabling the idea of fees and offered to head up a committee to look into the idea. The council unanimously agreed to discuss it again in August.

Cycling race to close roads

The council agreed to close parts of Clark, Usher, Lee, Stallings and Pace streets from 3-10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26, for the Georgia Cycling Grand Prix. The race starts at 4.

Drive-thru liquor stores OK

The council agreed 5-1 to approve on first reading an ordinance allowing drive-thru liquor stores in town. Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams voted against the idea.

Smith said walk-up windows were already legal, but not drive-thrus.

Wheeler appointed

Finally, the council voted 4-3 to appoint Bill Wheeler to the Downtown Development Authority. Goodman had nominated Cedrick Hamm. Johnston asked associate city attorney Frank Turner Jr. whether both Wheeler and Hamm could be appointed, but Tucker replied that state law allows only a seven-member commission, and only one seat was vacant.

Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Whatley, Smith, Dalton and Johnston as the tie-breaking vote were for Wheeler; Goodman, Williams and Ocie Franklin voted for Hamm.

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