The Covington City Council decided it's not going to bail out county-funded entities next year, as it reached a consensus Tuesday not to double its annual appropriation to the Newton County Library System to $30,000 next year.
The decision comes on the heels of a decision not to help fund recreation, which the county has fully funded since 2000. Because Covington residents pay both city and county taxes, council members felt it wasn't right to ask city residents to pay twice for the same services.
The library was requesting the additional $15,000 to help purchase more books and other materials. The council was split 3 to 3 on whether to fund the increase, with council members Janet Goodman, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley opposed at its Tuesday budget work session. Mayor Kim Carter was then called to give her opinion to break the tie, and said she was torn but ultimately sided against the increase.
The mayor and council expressed concern that additional funding might be used to help the new Porter Memorial Branch Library on Ga. Highway 212, which Covington residents would not use. The informal consensus will be reflected in the fiscal year 2012 budget.
The library is struggling to find funding sources as usage increases while its budget continues to decrease. The library system's proposed budget for the county for fiscal year 2012 is $816,452 for the Covington branch and $300,000 for the Porter Memorial Library Branch.
It cost the library $300,000 to operate the Porter branch for half a year, but it will now be asked to stretch that money out for a full year. Porter Branch Manager Brenda Poku said her branch currently has 14,860 items.
In budget news, the city has added four employees in its fiscal year 2102 budget for the Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center. Director Mike Smith requested four dispatchers to fully staff the 911 center and cut down on overtime costs.
The employees may not be guaranteed because the 911 center is jointly funded by the city and Newton County. City Manager Steve Horton said in an email that he believes the county will be responsible for half of the cost of the four added employees.
The city also discussed the future of four buildings on City Pond Road that it purchased in 2010. The 83-acre former Willis Family Trust property is close to the airport, and one of the buildings, which is fenced in, could be used for a government building related to the airport, Horton said Thursday.
Another house on the property has been destroyed by vandals, while the other two could be repaired for a combined $35,000 or torn down.
The two houses could be rented out, but council members expressed reservations about that option.
The city council also discussed finding a new format for the Leadership Collaborative, the group of city, county, chamber and community officials who meet regularly to plan the future of Newton County.
City council members felt that monthly collaborative meetings had become stale and no progress was being made toward carrying out the 2050 Build-Out Plan. In addition, city officials want to focus more on short-term goals, those in the next one to five years.
The council, led by Mayor Carter, identified five core goals they want to focus on, including implementation of the 2007 economic development plan, county corridors, town centers and infrastructure.
Infrastructure is particularly important for Covington as they sell gas and electricity to parts of the county outside the city limits. By focusing development in concentrated town centers, as opposed to sprawl, infrastructure costs for gas pipes and electrical lines are reduced.
The city was asked to pay $44,450 this year to The Center, located at 2104 Washington St., which is a third-party group that houses the collaborative meetings and helps develop future plans.
The council decided it would only fund $35,000 next year, because it wanted to reduce the number of meetings, from monthly to quarterly, and discuss fewer topics.
If the council remains unsatisfied with results, it could further reduce funding in the future; however, council members agreed collaboration was important.
Carter and Planning Director Randy Vinson also noted that the collaborative was unique in the state and helped Covington get additional state and federal funding.