The director of the Center for Community Preservation and Planning, the group tasked with forming the 2050 Plan and its accompanying ordinances, recently sent a note to groups that have supported its efforts saying that Covington and the Water and Sewer Authority will cut off its funding.
Kay Lee wrote in the letter that “The Center and all consultants have been relieved of their roles regarding the 2050 Plan Baseline Ordinances. The (county) Board of Commissioners will be taking over the project.”
That bit is no surprise. The commissioners voted a month ago to consolidate all existing work on the plan’s implementation into its own planning department.
But this part is new: “The City of Covington and the WSA will suspend funding.” The three groups, together with a few thousand dollars from Oxford, paid for the expensive plan’s development.
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston was a bit surprised at Lee’s note Friday morning, mainly because nothing’s happened on the city’s end, and indeed might not.
“It’s not official yet,” Johnston said. He plans to bring the matter of cutting funding for the Center’s baseline ordinance work at a city council workshop at 6 p.m. Monday. His job is to suggest such things; the council must approve such actions.
“Because of the action of the county, that meant the county was taking over the process of drafting and writing the baseline ordinances,” he said. “We don’t now have a seat at the table. We had a seat at the table with the Center, because it was a collaborative effort with the Center.”
Now, he said, the baseline ordinances are the county’s game. The city’s zoning already includes “80 to 90 percent” of the ordinances called for by the 2050 Plan, so the city was trying to be a “good neighbor” by helping pay for it.
“Now that (the county has) pulled it, they put me in a position, whether I like it or not, I can’t support funding it.”
He specified that he was speaking only for himself, not the council.
He said he hopes the council will agree at the workshop Monday, then vote at its regular meeting on Sept. 15 to cut funding.
But this is not the death of the 2050 Plan. The baseline ordinances are merely the tool to implement it.
“I still believe this has still a ton of value with the Center and what it does, not only for the city but for the whole county,” he said. Using the center, the county and its municipalities have been able to make cooperative (and therefore cheaper) purchases of supplies, pooled resources, and come together as a whole.
Lee was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Johnston admitted he was a “little frustrated” with the county’s actions.
If the plan had (or, maybe, still goes) forward, there might have been an opportunity for more savings. For instance, he said one overall zoning ordinance would require only one zoning department, combining the cities’ efforts with the county.
“It gave us those opportunities to become a more efficient government for all our services. As it seems, it looks like that’s been pulled off the table,” he said.
Not so, or at least not so much, County Council Chairman Keith Ellis said Friday.
“I’m in hopes that we can have ordinances that fit Newton County and think the citizens will be happy with,” he said. “It’s valuable for the other (municipal) entities to get together with the county. It makes sense. You have to create those relationships and one of the ways is to have everybody can sit down together. … You can share ideas.”
He said he hopes to schedule such meetings in the future.
Ellis said the 2050 “ordinances were overreaching and just didn’t fit Newton County. I have every confidence in our (county planning) staff and the attorney’s office. They know Newton County and will be able to decide which parts of the ordinances need to be kept and which ones need to be scrapped.”
“In their own rime, when they bring something back, the citizens will able to address this new set of ordinances,” Ellis said. “I’m delighted the citizens were finally heard.”