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City Council discuss spending cable funds
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A general consensus by the Covington City Council appears to have formed around funding several items with the Covington Cable proceeds. Those items are the airport, the city's pension fund and retiring the city's most expensive debt.

At a Covington City Council work session Monday night Mayor Sam Ramsey presented his suggestions to the council for spending the proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable to Charter Communications Inc.

After the cable system's short term debt and legal expenses from the sale are paid off, the city's total proceeds from the sale come to $22,951,702.

Ramsey's proposal that the city spend $3.58 million on paying off all Water and Sewer bonds issued before 2000 (these bonds also have the highest interest rates) was met with general approval by the council.

Additionally Ramsey's suggestion that the city put $3 million into the city's pension fund to bring it up to a 100 percent funding level was also met with high approval by the council.

 Less certain was Ramsey's suggestion that the council spend $5 million on the Covington Municipal Airport. Ramsey is suggesting that the city spend $2.8 million on buying 85 acres from the Industrial Development Authority for the development of the airport and $2.2 million on running utilities and a road through the land to the airport.

Council members Roger Tingler and Mike Whatley indicated their support of the airport proposal. In a previous interview with The News Council member Ocie Franklin also gave her support to developing the airport.

"I think we're going to get that back 100 times," said Tingler of the city's likely returns from developing the airport further.

The least certain of Ramsey's cable money proposals was his suggestion to set aside $5 million for the hotel/civic center project. While the Newton County Board of Commissioners and the Covington City Council voted unanimously to authorize $12.1 million in bonds from the IDA at the end of 2006 for the building of the civic center, the project has since stalled. Additionally $5 million from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax has also been authorized for the project.

The project's original private investors, the Nobel Investment Group, have been replaced by different investors who are greatly concerned with the issue of parking in the area said Ramsey.

"I can't see how in the world we're going to swing the deal and not put that much in it," said Ramsey of his suggested $5 million contribution to the hotel/civic center project which had an estimated total cost of $24 million in December.

Both Tingler (who is running for mayor in November) and Council member Janet Goodman expressed reservations for funding the civic center any further without equal contributions from the BOC. Tingler commented that he felt the city had already contributed to the project twice, once through the backing of the bonds and secondly through the SPLOST.

"I think we have stepped up to back the bonds," Tingler said. "I am opposed to us putting up cash versus SPLOST. More (SPLOST) money is collected in this city than anywhere else in the county."

After funding the homeless shelter (previously approved by the council at their Sept. 17 meeting), the airport, the pension plan and paying off the city's most expensive debt, Tingler suggested the city leave the remaining $10 million in the bank to accrue interest.

Mayoral candidate Kim Carter was also in attendance at the work session and spoke up with her own suggestions which were more fiscally conservative than those of Mayor Ramsey and Tingler.

In addition to paying off all GEFA debt issued before 2000, Carter suggested that the city also pay off a 1999 MGAG loan for approximately $950,000. Carter agreed that the city should fully fund its pension plan. After pension plan and debt servicing expenditures, Carter's proposal would leave approximately $14.3 million in the bank to earn interest.

While recognizing the economic development potential of the airport, Carter said she was not in support of spending $5 million on the airport until a strategic economic development plan had been developed for the airport. Additionally she said she was not in favor of spending funds on the civic center as it was not included in the city's Comprehensive Plan.

"Let's get our ducks in a row before we earmark funds," Carter said.

Council member Janet Goodman said she would like to see a portion of the proceeds spent on beautifying the U.S. Highway 278 entrance to Covington.

"It's the ugliest entrance from here to Atlanta," Goodman said.

Council member Hawnethia Williams said she would like to see a portion of the proceeds spent on improving historically black neighborhoods in the city.

"We need to be inclusive," Williams said. "This money is for everyone."

Council member John Howard was not in attendance at Monday night's work session.